AVON PARK - The Red Devils' remarkable playoff run came to an end Tuesday night, as Avon Park fell to Tampa's Berkeley Prep by a score of 76-46 in the Class 4A-Region 3 semifinals.
"They're a well coached team," said Red Devils coach Marty O'Hora. "They had a few guys about 6'4 and 6'5. They were real long, and that bothered us early. And with four seniors, they didn't make mistakes, they didn't panic, and they executed well. They're the kind of team that we want to end up being."
The Buccaneers put the Devils in an early 8-0 hole. Avon Park didn't score it's first basket until late in the first period, when Alfred Brown drove into the paint for a contested layup.
Berkeley Prep senior guard, Marshall Holmes, silenced a raucous Red Devils Gym, burying four first half 3-pointers. The Bucs' offense was rolling, and Berkeley Prep took a commanding 23-9 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Avon Park cut into the deficit with two quick baskets to start the second period, but the Bucs countered with a 6-0 run.
Their shooters continued to sizzle from long-range, and Berkeley Prep got threes from Justin Gray, Antonio Johnson, and Craig Bowman in the second quarter to balloon its lead to 23 points. The Bucs led 48-24 at the half.
Holmes led all scorers with 21 points. Bowman netted 14 and Gray added 10.
"There were a couple of shots we missed early that could have cut their lead down somewhat," O'Hora said. "That would've been big."
The Bucs continued to roll in the second half. Late in the third quarter, though, they abandoned the deep shot, opting to attack the post instead. The change in tactics paid off, and the Bucs often found their way to the line.
Holmes continued to be a nuisance for the Devils, finishing layups despite contact and increased defensive pressure. Berkeley Prep's stellar post play gave the Bucs their largest lead of the game late in the third quarter at 69-37.
But the Devils resolve would not die.
Avon Park fought back to win the final quarter 9-7, with Brown leading the charge.
"We lose Brown, and that's big," O'Hora said. "He was a real good senior for us. He played hard in all of our games and was a big leader for us."
Brown finished with a team-high 16 points. Recarus Burley contributed nine and Tyrone Perry scored seven.
The future looks bright for the Devils basketball program. O'Hora is only in his second year, and already he's directed Avon Park to consecutive district titles.
The Red Devils also advanced to the second round of the state playoffs under O'Hora for the first time since their run to the final four in 2010.
Getting his players involved in summer basketball leagues will be key to the continued growth of the program O'Hora said.
"Now that I'm in my second year, I'd really like to get the guys involved in some basketball once school's out. Getting them off the playground and into organized basketball will really makes their game stronger. Will only takes you so far, and you'll need to work on your skill eventually.
Hitting the weight room won't hurt, either."
Despite a tough loss to end the season, O'Hora said he was very pleased with his team's overall success.
"Twenty wins and six losses is pretty good," he said. "Last year we got to the first round of the playoffs and lost bad to Tampa Catholic. This year we beat them and reached the second round. Now it's time to build on that and hopefully next year go farther. So, hopefully we can keep building and keep getting better."