Vanguard holds off Forest rally for rivalry win

Knights able to avenge recent loss to Wildcats

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Posted January 26, 2024 | By Mark Pinson
Special to the Ocala Gazette
Photos By Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette

Vanguard senior Cameron Powell’s short jumper in the lane broke a tie with a minute left to play, and the Knights held on for a 61-58 win over Forest on Friday night.

The hard-fought and exciting win in front of a packed gymnasium improved Vanguard to 12-8 on the season. It also earned the Knights a measure of revenge for a two-point loss to Forest two weeks ago.

“I’m proud of the guys, we talked about it all week, this was our get-back game,” said Vanguard coach Travis Licht. “That was a huge shot by Powell at the end and that’s senior leadership and experience. This is a huge win for us, gives us a lot of confidence, and will help us in the state rankings as we prepare for the postseason.”

Forest, which dropped to 15-6 overall, suffered through a poor shooting night, but the Wildcats still managed to rally from a 16-point third-quarter deficit to tie the score at 57 before coming up short in the closing seconds.

“We just didn’t play well at all,” said Forest coach Mike Hoffmann. “We struggled and the ball just wasn’t going in the basket for us tonight. Credit to Vanguard, they came out and shot the ball incredibly well and made some key plays down the stretch. Credit to our guys for not giving up after being down by 16 points and tying it up with a minute left in the game after playing as bad as we did. We’ve got to bounce back because we have three games next week.”

Forest started the game on a positive note as Xavier Kirkpatrick and Anthony Rivera drained back-to-back 3 pointers and Zay McCoy added a bucket to give the Wildcats an 8-0 lead midway through the first period.

Vanguard roared back as senior D’Mareon Manning poured in 11 of his 15 points and Johnardo Turner knocked down a trey and Jandrian Smith followed with a shot from behind the arc to give the Knights’ a 19-15 lead heading to the second quarter.

Class 6A Forest missed a number of shots and Vanguard capitalized as Manning scored four points, Derek Singelton added four points and Smith drilled back-to-back 3-pointers as the Class 5A Knights enjoyed a 35-23 lead at the half.

Vanguard continued to play well and increased its lead as Turner scored four points and Powell added five of his 11 points, including a 3-pointer and a thunderous dunk, to put the Knights up 42-27 with 2:27 left in the third quarter.

Forest, which committed 17 turnovers, refused to quit and went to a half-court trapping defense which gave Vanguard fits and forced the Knights into numerous miscues.

Forest steadily cut into its deficit as Trey Chisolm nailed a pair of 3-pointers, McCoy scored eight of his game-high 19 points and Rivera scored six of his 16 points, including a pair of clutch free throws, to tie the score at 55 with 1:27 left to play.

Turner scored inside the paint to give Vanguard a two-point lead, but McCoy was fouled driving to the basket and the Wildcat senior calmly converted both free throws to the score at 57 with under a minute left to play.

Vanguard worked the ball around and found Powell open in the lane for the go-ahead basket.

Forest brought the ball up the floor quickly and McCoy drove to the basket, but his shot was blocked and no foul was called. The Wildcats had another chance to tie the score when Sean Curry was hurt driving to the basket and was unable to shoot his free throws. Carson Davison made one of two free throws to pull the Wildcats within 59-58 with 3.6 seconds remaining in the game.

Forest was forced to foul Smith who made both free throws as part of a team-high 18-point effort, to give the Knights a 61-58 lead.

McCoy rushed up court and attempted a 3-pointer, but it came up short as time expired and the Knights held on for the victory.

‘This win will definitely boost our rankings,” coach Licht said. “In general, it just gives us more confidence heading into the postseason.”

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