By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
NORTH PORT — When Palmetto High School needed to make a string of plays to get back into Thursday’s Class 8A-3 regional quarterfinal against North Port, there wasn’t one person who stepped up for the Tigers.
Instead, it was a trio of players who led Palmetto to a 65-61 come-from-behind victory over the Bobcats. Palmetto advances to face Lakewood Ranch in next week’s regional semifinals.
“I think we got the momentum and played with a lot of energy together,” Palmetto coach Reggie Bellamy said. “Defensively, we made some stops. We wanted everything going to the basket, and we got some stuff going to the basket. We were scoring sporadically. There wasn’t any one person.”
North Port, which led for a majority of the game, held a 56-55 edge with 4:09 left in the game. That was after two minutes of the Tigers tying the score and then giving the lead back to the Bobcats.
Palmetto went up 57-56 with 2:40 left, and then ran off eight straight to threaten to seal it.
The Bobcats, however, didn’t quit. Gene Oliver came up in the clutch and forced a Tigers turnover that led to a layup by Bryson Thieme to make it 63-61.
However, Tom Washington hit a pair of free throws after that to help seal the game.
“We forced a lot of tough shots, and unfortunately, with the help we were giving, it put us out of position,” North Port coach Ryan Power said. “Their bigs took advantage, got the rebounds and put it in five or six times on us, and that was the difference in the game.”
Washington had four points in the fourth quarter. Daquan Kirce had seven points and Jeremiah Graham scored six points in the final period. Graham had 18 on the night and Kirce 12.
Palmetto benefited from strong rebounding, specifically on the offensive glass. The Tigers scored six points down the stretch on second-chance opportunities.
North Port led 48-44 after three quarters. The Bobcats built that lead on the play of Bryan O’Boyle, Brandon Graff, Thieme and Oliver.
O’Boyle finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds to go with four steals. Graff also had 13 points, but added six rebounds and five assists. Oliver had a team-high 15 points. Thieme added another 13 points, including a what were a crucial five points in the fourth.
The Bobcats were without senior Zach Babut, who, according to Power, woke up in the middle of the night (Thursday morning) in excruciating pain, which led to him needing an appendectomy.
PALMETTO 65, NORTH PORT 61
Palmetto 13 13 18 21 — 65
North Port 17 15 16 13 — 61
Palmetto (65): Kenny Brown 18, Jeremiah Graham 16, Daquan Kirce 12, Settles 8, Spicer 5, Washington 4, Adolphus 2. Totals: 26(2) 11-19 65.
North Port (61): Gene Oliver 15, Bryan Thieme 13, Bryan O’Boyle 13, Brandon Graff 13, Via 5, Clevenger 1, Cohen 1. Totals: 23(8) 7-10 61.