AVON PARK – The Avon Park Red Devils boys basketball team rallied from seven points down in the fourth quarter to beat the DeSoto Bulldogs by a score of 56-49 in their season-opener at home on Thursday night.

“I thought our shot selection was pretty good tonight,” said Avon Park Head Coach Martin O’Hora. “We have a lot of young kids, we only have two varsity players back from last year.”

The Red Devils scored the first six points of the game on a 3-pointer by Malcolm Dewberry and a three-point play by Rickey Lovette after four minutes.

Scoring remained scarce throughout the first quarter as DeSoto went on an 8-2 run to tie the game at 8.

Avon Park’s Mike Jones hit a short jumper at the end of the first quarter to put the Red Devils in the lead at 10-8.

Avon Park increased its lead to six midway through the second quarter off a pair of 3-pointers by Kevin Young and Dylan Page and a basket by Lovette to give Avon Park an 18-12 lead.

Trailing 24-19 with less than a minute to play in the first half, DeSoto capitalized on a couple of Avon Park mistakes to tie the game at 24 on a 3-pointer by the Bulldogs’ Arnold Mele to close out the first half.

“We have to be more aware of situations like being up by five right before the half,” added O’Hora. “We turned the ball over twice and that allowed DeSoto to tie the score.”

Three-pointers by Leroy Small and Javariuss Smith early in the third quarter gave the Red Devils a four-point lead at 30-26.

It was a lead the Red Devils relinquished as the Bulldogs went on an 11-2 run behind two 3-pointers by Mele and another one by Keimar Richardson to put the Bulldogs up 37-32.

Two more 3-pointers by Mele, one more in the third quarter and one to start the fourth, gave the Bulldogs their biggest lead of the night at seven points, 45-38.

The Red Devils quickly answered back, scoring twelve unanswered points, eight by Page, to take a five-point lead at 50-45 with three minutes left in the game.

Avon Park expanded its lead to seven in winning their first game of the regular season, 56-49.

“We have been stressing getting rebounds and blocking out the other team,” stated O’Hora. “I think our defense did well tonight in doing that and holding DeSoto to 49 points.”

Richardson led the Bulldogs with a game-high 18 points and Mele scored 14 in the loss.

Page, Smith and Lovette each scored 11 points for Avon Park and Dewberry added nine points for the Red Devils.

Avon Park plays twice this week at home, facing the Frostproof Bulldogs on Tuesday night and the Tenoroc Titans on Friday night in a Class 5A-District 8 matchup.

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