By Mike Ridaught
Tonight the annual hoops rivalry between Ocala schools Vanguard and Forest continues, and not only is it a city showdown, but it’s a big district game in Class 7A-District 4.
The visiting Knights sit atop the league standings at 5-0, including a 12-5 mark overall, but the Wildcats (11-6, 2-4), who have been close in each of their league losses, are still a dangerous team and might be called the sleeper of the district.
Vanguard won the first meeting between the teams, 65-63, at home on January 6, despite missing four starters and one sub for the game – Philip Ortiz, Jalen Scott, Leonard Manuel, Tae Bynes & Jaq Mathis, who is no longer on the team.
Coming into the 2016-17 season, expectations were high for Vanguard and coach Phillip Small. The Knights lost four seniors from last year’s team that went 21-8 and lost to Gainesville by three in the district championship, and lost again to the Hurricanes in the second round of the 6A state playoffs.
But with 10 seniors on this team, plus the return of two starters and a key transfer, the Knights appeared to be the team to beat in the district this year.
That hasn’t changed, but the Knights lost starting PG Philip Ortiz for the season during the Kingdom of the Sun back in December and they have also been without his back-up, junior Jalen Scott, who hasn’t been in the line-up since the Forest game when he injured his knee.
Ortiz led Marion County in assists and free throw shooting last year. He was averaging 10.5 points and 4.8 assists per game prior to the injury against Class 8A Lakeland, a 61-47 win.
“Jalen is questionable for tonight, but we do anticipate him returning to our team soon,” said Small, whose club defeated defending district champion Gainesville (16-2, 5-1), 67-60, in overtime back on December 9.
The Knights have struggled as of late, losing three of their past four games to county rival North Marion (Citra), 8A Buchholz (Gainesville) & 6A Santa Fe (Alachua). They have two league games left after tonight – home vs. Columbia (Lake City) on Tuesday and at Gainesville next Thursday.
The game tonight against Forest and the game next week at GHS will both be broadcast on Florida Sports Talk The Team. You can listen to the games on 100.1 FM & 900 AM in Ocala and 92.1 FM & 1230 AM in Gainesville, as well as online at ThePrepZone.com (direct link listed below).
Forest, which is improved from last season, has been right there in every district game this season. In fact, their four league losses have been by a total of 11 points.
In their last league game on Tuesday at Lake Weir (Ocala), the Wildcats dominated. Four players scored in double figures as Forest won the game, 79-47.
Eddie Jackson (15 points, 12 rebounds), T.J. Coates (14 points), Dantwan Grimes (11 points), JD Boatright (10 points) helped lead the way to a season-high in points. The Wildcats are a guard-led team, that looks to spread you out and utilize dribble penetration to set up 3-point shooters.
“We like to apply pressure which helps us to control tempo and allow our players to use their athletic ability,” said coach Steven Powell, who noted that he likes the fact that the Wildcats have kept games close. “I think that we will play our best basketball in the coming weeks.”
The Wildcats will host Gainesville on Tuesday, Jan. 24. That game will also be broadcast on the radio.
Air Time: 7 p.m.
Title: Boys’ HS Basketball – Vanguard (Ocala) at Forest (Ocala)
Event Details: Join Mike Ridaught (Play-by-play) & George Koziara (Color) for this Class 7A-District 4 showdown between city rivals. Follow us on Facebook & Twitter for updates @ThePrepZone
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