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Vanguard (Ocala) advances to first regional final since 1994

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IMG_9571By Jack DaSilva

Last night in Ocala, the Gainesville boys’ basketball team traveled to Vanguard for the second round of the Class 7A state playoffs.

GHS and Vanguard had played each other two times within the two weeks, splitting those two games, 1-1.

Gainesville won the first of those meetings on January 26 to secure home-court advantage in the 7A-District 4 tournament, but Vanguard won the overtime thriller on February 10 to take the title away from the ‘Canes. It was Vanguard’s first district title in 14 years.

The host Knights also defeated the ‘Canes in December in the first meeting in overtime for a 2-1 series lead, setting up a neighboring county showdown in the postseason.

The GHS-Vanguard rivalry is always a highly anticipated game. Both teams are pretty similar in terms of competitiveness and the game always comes down to the wire, with three of the past four meetings going into overtime.

On Tuesday night, Vanguard took advantage of the home-court atmosphere and jumped out to an early lead and held a 13-5 advantage at the end of the first quarter.

#44 Leonard Manuel (far left)
#44 Leonard Manuel
(far left)

There were rumors that freshman Leonard Manuel would not be playing in the game, but following a first-half suspension he was ready to go and greatly helped Vanguard (23-6) come out with a win, 76-62.  Manuel scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter.

Vanguard made few mistakes and kept control of the game for almost the entire 32 minutes.

Gainesville (25-4) found its rhythm in the second quarter and came within two points at the half, 26-24.

The Purple Hurricanes made a run and took the lead in the third quarter, out-scoring Vanguard, 19-18, but still trailed by one at the end of the third quarter, 44-43.

“It didn’t get out of hand,” explained Vanguard coach Phillip Small. “I didn’t call a timeout for a while because it [GHS’s lead] never got to more than three or four. Our guys were competing. Their guys were just making plays.”

In the fourth quarter, the Knights outscored the ‘Canes, 32-19, to advance.

“I told our kids before the game that they [GHS] were going to make a run,” added Small. “I’d much rather them make it right there at the start of the third [quarter] than the fourth.”

Senior forward Devontae Bynes, our Sonic Player-of-the-Game, was a major factor in Vanguard’s win over Gainesville, scoring a game-high 21 points with 18 of his points coming in the second half.

Despite being similar teams, Bynes described how the Vanguard is different than GHS.

“At the end of the day we have more focus and we compete more than them,” he said.

Focus is definitely a key to Vanguard’s success.

“Our kids didn’t want to go home” added Small. “They made big plays, they handled the ball and handled the pressure and I’m proud of them.”

After yet another intense game, Vanguard came out with the win and will be moving on as Gainesville saw its season come to an end.

Gainesville Hurricanes“I am super proud of this group of young men,” Gainesville coach Kelly Beckham told the Ocala Star-Banner. “We lost our best player (senior Micaiah Lacroix) to an ACL tear and we had two teammates who didn’t want to play anymore. “You know, you can take all of that into consideration and in the end, this was a heck of a year. We played a tough schedule, and to be able to win 25 ballgames, I am just super proud of them.”

Both Gainesville High School and Vanguard have had incredible seasons but at the end of the day one team had to win and the other had to go home.

Vanguard will move on to its first regional final since 1994. The Knights will host Choctaw (Ft. Walton Beach), a 59-53 winner against Crestview, in this Friday’s 7A-Region 1 Final.

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