MIDDLEBURG - In back-to-back basketball thrillers at Middleburg High School, the Lady Broncos girls team staved off a late-game surge by previously unbeaten University Christian (now 14-1) to win, arguably, one of the biggest games in the season while, on the previous night, the Bronco boys teams, fielding a three-game win streak, stayed ahead of former Class 8A powerhouse Creekside until a buzzer beater three pointer ended the potential major upset.
“I have said since the beginning of the season, that this girls team is one of the most athletic and talented that I have had and if I can figure a way to get them all to play four quarters of exciting basketball, those kids would be unstoppable,” said Middleburg High girls basketball coach Michael Hayward, who got a supreme inside game effort from junior center Skylar Baltezegar to win 60-55. “Our schedule has been one of the toughest, but our five losses have been against good teams. This game was one where people may have been saying ‘Is this the big game they might win?’”
With his five losses to the likes of Bishop Kenny (10-8), Raines, (20-1) Apopka (15-2), Ribault (16-6) and Wekiva (12-5), Hayward saw Baltezegar dominate the paint with 18 rebounds on top of 20 points apiece from guards Britany Range and Mar’riah Davis. Range got five steals on the night with six assists.
“I have worked to become the dominant player I was supposed to be and my teammates now rely on me to make plays in the middle,” said Baltezegar, who scored nine points and had three assists. “When I’m up top and have a clear vision under the basket instead of backing into the lane, I can find my teammates making runs for layups.”
Hayward next lines up against Robert E. Lee (10-6) in a key district 3-5A clash as the Broncos, Lee and Orange Park (11-4) will finish as the top teams the very competitive district.
For the boys team, under coach Travis Tipton, a surge for the Broncos who returned home with a three game win streak; (Stanton, Mandarin and Bell) in four nights, ended with a formidable Creekside team that beat the Broncos 38-35 prior to the Stanton win.
“We had the momentum coming in and wanted to get the payback win on them after the close loss before the streak,” said Tipton. “We are finally playing together as a team and trusting each other.”
Creekside, a Final Four finisher in Class 8A in 2018 and a region finalist in 2017, brought their normal strong outside shooting game to Middleburg and were able to come back from a 45-41 Bronco lead with 2:47 left in the game with back-to-back three pointers to get to 48-47 with 1:21 left in the game.
A questionable travel call on Bronco guard Olivier Osier gave Creekside the ball with 19.7 seconds on the clock.
With just two team fouls, Tipton attempted to knock out some clock with four fouls putting the clock at 5.7 seconds.
On the inbounds, Creekside found sophomore guard Jonothan Gupton, who had just two missed jumpers for the game in limited game time, just off the three point stripe in front of Middleburg defenders Britan Bussey and Osier. Gupton calmly stepped in, backed out behind the stripe and nailed the gamewinner as the buzzer sounded.
For the game, Osier and senior Edgard Enriquez both hammered the Creekside defense with Osier scoring 12 points with 10 rebounds and Enriquez scoring 18 points with 12 rebounds. Enrique hit his final three pointer with 1:33 to put the Broncos up 48-44.
In the first quarter, Enriquez hit his first three pointer at the buzzer as the Broncos surged to a 21-13 lead.
At the half, Middleburg remained up 30-26 with Creekside attacking inside with 6’-2” center Ergys Muhametal, who hit for 13 points for the game.
Middleburg opened the third with Andy Patterson hitting a three to push the lead to 33-28, but Creekside stayed within shouting distance with a 40-36 fourth quarter start.
Middleburg kept pace with tenacious man-to-man defense with Jordan Robinson hitting a jumper to put the Broncos up 45-41 with 2:59 left in the game.
Middleburg gets a third shot at Creekside on February 6 at Creekside.