With his team having tasted defeat for only the second time in its past 13 games, Apalachee High School coach Kevin Morris stressed the importance of his players remaining focused down the final stretch of the regular season.
The Wildcats, who were 13-4 overall and 7-4 in Region 8-AAAAA entering this week’s action, fell to visiting Gainesville Friday 63-53. While AHS defeated Gainesville 81-65 early in the season, the Red Elephants were missing several team members who were still involved in the football state playoffs.
“They were missing a lot and are much improved,” Morris said. “We also didn’t play our best. We didn’t execute well in our half court offense. It was one of those games where a lot of things didn’t bounce our way.”
The Wildcat coach points to one sequence in the game where standout defensive player Cameron Blakely blocked a Gainesville attempt, only to see the ball bounce back out to a Red Elephant player, who nailed a three-pointer and was then fouled on the play. What had been a Gainesville two-point lead, turned into a six-point advantage after the four-point play.
“It seemed like everything was against us,” Morris said.
As AHS prepares for the final games of the regular season, Morris said his players must remain focused.
“You never want to lose,” Morris said Sunday, as he broke down the Gainesville contest. “And it’s not that I think we didn’t play hard. However, I don’t think we were as focused or as intense or as hungry as we needed to be.”
A key for the Wildcats will be to go back to an “us against the world” mentality, their coach said.
“Two years ago, no one thought we could win,” Morris said. “Last year, only a few thought we could win. We had to fight to prove people wrong. We got away from having that hunger to prove people wrong. It’s great to play with confidence, but you also have to have the right amount of intensity. Friday’s game may turn out to be a good thing. We have to learn how to handle success a little better.”
Prior to Friday’s game, AHS had posted 11 wins in its last 12 contests.
“My slogan to the players has been ‘good can be the enemy of great,’” Morris said. “If you settle for good, then you will never be great. We still have to want to be great. We aren’t where we want to be now.”
While disappointed in Friday’s loss, Morris did take some positives from the outing.
“We were down five points late and you could see in our players’ eyes that they believed we could come back,” Morris said. “That was good to see, even though the game didn’t quite turn out the way we hoped. Seeing them with a sense of calm was something as a coach I liked to see.”
AHS hosts Winder-Barrow Friday in the latests chapter in the local rivalry, which also counts in the region standings.