AVON PARK - The Cardiac Kids were back in action Monday night.
Avon Park overcame a lackluster shooting night to pull away from Hardee by a score of 64-52 in Red Devils Gym, rebounding from an abysmal first quarter in which the Wildcats outscored the Red Devils 12-3.
The nondistrict win improved Class 4A Avon Park to 7-3 overall, while Class 5A Hardee dropped to 0-8.
"We're just not as mentally strong as we'd like to be," said Devils coach Marty O'Hora. "When we're not making our shots and the game isn't going our way, we just get too down on ourselves."
Avon Park shook off of the cobwebs in the second quarter, though, and used a 13-0 run to take 16-12 lead.
The game was back and forth from there, as both sides succumbed to wild, undisciplined play. Hardee was shooting threes in transition, Avon Park was turning the ball over on simple passes, and neither team seemed capable of making a basket.
"It's a hot and cold thing with us," O'Hora said. "I know when we play well, we have a chance to beat some great teams. But when we get down, we can lose to anyone."
Avon Park managed a 24-23 lead at the half, but poor shooting plagued the Red Devils in the third quarter.
Nearly three minutes into the period, neither side had scored. Hardee finally broke the scoring drought with a three, which seemed to wake up the Devils, who went on to win the quarter 11-6.
And in the final period, Avon Park senior guard Alfred Brown took over.
He was unstoppable on offense, scoring at will from behind the 3-point arc and deep in the paint. He also swiped a few passes in the backcourt, forcing Hardee to foul him as he went up for an easy layup. Brown finished with a team-high 13 points, 10 in the fourth quarter.
"He was great down the stretch," O'Hora said. "He's got to realize he's got a really good shot, and he needs to know when it's right to take over. I think sometimes he wants to get everyone else involved a little too much."
Propelled by Brown, the Devils offense came alive, netting 29 points to run away with the game. Daemon Braswell followed Brown with 12 points, while Recarus Burley added 11.
O'Hora said he's going to work on maintaining that level of aggression that he saw in the fourth quarter.
"You've got to do something when the offense stagnates," he said. "You've got to drive into the paint, get to the foul line, something - and one of Hardee's best players had two early fouls. You've got to go at him. You've got to attack."
Hardee was paced by Steve Metayer, who finished with a game-high 27 points. Smith and Deshawndre McMillan each contributed six.
Much of what's hindered Avon Park's aggressive style of play has been a brutal schedule. The Devils have barely had more than a few days in between games over the last week.
"We're not trying to make excuses," O'Hora said. "But we've had three games a week for the last three weeks. And it wears on you. It's a lot of road trips, which means a lot of travel, but we're hoping to rest our legs with some time off now."
Avon Park won't resume its district schedule until the new year rolls around, but the Devils will see some stiff competition in the annual Taveniere tournament.
Hosted by Sebring High School, the Devils open the tournament with longtime rival Sebring on Dec. 26. The eight-team tournament features some of Central Florida's best basketball talent, and includes Lakeland, Liberty, Homestead, Teneroc, and fellow Highlands County rival Lake Placid. All games in the tournament will count on Avon Park's regular-season record.
"We just gotta' get tougher," O'Hora said. "We've got to learn that when we get pushed, we need to push back."