Indians battle, fall to Devils in semi

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By Jenna McKenna

Williston boys played the Rope-A-Dope for three quarters Friday night, waiting until the bell rang on the fourth quarter to explode to a 56-39 win over Chiefland. The Indians played one of their best games of the season for the first 24 minutes, owning the lane at both ends and waxing the glass. Williston challenged somewhat in the third quarter, momentarily taking a lead up to four points, but Chiefland never let the Devils stray far. Cantrell Richardson's monster three-pointer at the third quarter buzzer allowed the Indians to take their last lead at 38-36, but ironically, that shot sounded the death knell of their season.

"We definitely came out showing some rust tonight, whether from not playing for a week or whatever, but we started slow," said Williston head coach Dave Vespignani.

"It took Cantrell Richardson's buzzer beater to wake us up; it woke up our crowd, woke up our kids, and they rose to the occasion to get it done."

"Cantrell's shot -- if that's what they're gonna use for momentum, well, we were trying to do the same thing," said Chiefland head coach Mark Lundy.

Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. Richardson was the game-high scorer with 22 points, spread nearly evenly over the first three quarters. In the fourth quarter, Williston's suffocating pressure defense, scarcely seen that night, emerged to virtually deny the ball to Richardson, Tommy Sheffield and Eugene Carter. The Devils took over the boards, stealing all Chiefland's second chances. The Indians, incredibly, were held to one point - Sheffield's free throw - in the fourth quarter.

Williston was finally saved, offensively, by their balanced attack. Led by Deonte Welch with 17 points, they were supported by James Hunt's 14, and strong contributions from several other players.

"I think our kids are the best offensive team in the district, and we showed it tonight," Vespignani said.

Chiefland, normally a balanced shooting team, had leaned too hard on Richardson, who had more than half the team's entire production. As the Devils shook off the cobwebs in the second half, the Indians' production began to decline.

"We weren't able to make all the shots in the second half that we made in the first half," Lundy said, noting the team's shooting percentage fell from 46 percent before the break to 34 percent after, and free throws declined from 61 percent to 36 percent.

"Williston did a good job defending us in the second half -- they're a good team, very well coached -- but things would have been different if we could have put the ball in the basket."

Despite the disappointment of a loss, Chiefland played exceptionally well against an outstanding opponent, and Lundy couldn't help but be proud.

"Ending the season this way, in this type of game, I'm very happy our younger guys got to see just how hard you have to work to win in this district," Lundy said.

Last of all, Lundy wanted to say thanks to Vespignani for the Williston coach's exceptional sportsmanship. Although Chiefland hosted the district tournament, as the lower seed in the semifinal they would have been the away team, wearing their blue practice suits as away jerseys.

“He called me earlier this week and told me that we should go ahead and wear our home whites,” Lundy said.

In Saturday's district tournament final, Williston hung on to down P.K. Yonge in overtime 74-67. Williston will host District 6 winner Keystone Heights tonight (Thursday) at 7 p.m. P.K Yonge travels to Union County tonight. Williston and P.K. are expected to meet again at Williston Tuesday night, Feb. 24, at 7.