SPRINGFIELD — When a program wins 70 games over the course of three seasons, losses are difficult to accept.
And they don’t come without extreme effort to reverse the outcome.
Consider Rutherford’s 77-74 defeat by Suwannee Thursday night in a boys basketball Region 1-5A quarterfinal as Exhibit A in that regard.
Suwannee, 19-6, advanced to play Tallahassee Rickards for the fourth time this season in a region semifinal on Tuesday. Rutherford ended 25-4, its third consecutive 20-plus-win season falling short of Lakeland.
The latter seemed a foregone conclusion when the Bulldogs put on a second-quarter shooting exhibition while cruising to a 40-21 halftime lead.
They were forced three times to fight off Rutherford responses in the second half, and when superlative senior guard Jimmie Taylor III made one of two free throws with 2:26 remaining Suwannee led 69-58.
Rams senior point guard Kiki Williamson scored nine of his team-high 24 points from that stage, Rutherford battling to the final possession.
In fact, the Rams had a chance to take their first lead of the game since the opening minutes when Gabe Steele got free for a 3-point attempt with 12 seconds left.’
It was off the mark, and Taylor again made one of two free throws at 9.9 to open a three-point spread. Williamson had a chance to force overtime from near the top of the key seconds later, but his shot bounced off the rim.
The Rams retained possession, and it appeared Khaliel Spearman would get off one last attempt in hopes of a miracle finish. He couldn’t maintain control, and as the ball bounced free Rutherford’s season expired at the buzzer.
It was that type of night for Rutherford.
The Rams were in a deep hole after the Bulldogs’ second-quarter display from the field, Raymond Gardner scoring nine of his 11 of points in the quarter as Rutherford fell behind by 19.
Every response from that point, outside of the wild finish, was met with an answer from Taylor, who scored 27 points for the Bulldogs.
Rutherford used full-court pressure in a seven-point blitz to open the third quarter. Taylor had a free throw and 3-pointer that built his team’s lead back to 47-29.
The Rams finally got within 10 at 55-45 when Stephen Carr turned an offensive rebound into a three-point play. Taylor passed to teammates Kevarrius Hayes and Aaron McAllister for easy baskets, and his 15-foot fallaway boosted the margin back to 61-45 with 6:09 left.
Rutherford still wouldn’t fold, and produced a nine-point run to carve the deficit to 62-54 with 4:15 showing. This time Taylor found the freshman McAllister alone underneath with two key assists and it was 66-54 at 3:17.
Of Suwannee’s initial 19 points of the fourth quarter, Taylor was responsible for all but two with nine points and four assists. Hayes, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, added 18 points and five blocked shots and McAllister had 13 points.
For Rutherford, Spearman overcame a slow start to produce 15 points, and five other Rams had between six and eight.
- SUWANNEE (77)
- Ross 2 1-3 6, Taylor 7 7-11 27, Hayes 6 6-13 18, McAllister 6 0-0 13, Gardner 5 0-0 11, Heredia 0 0-0 0, Perry 1 0-0 2. Totals: 27 16-28 77.
- RUTHERFORD (74)
- Steele 2 2-2 8, Williamson 8 6-6 24, James 0 0-0 0, Spearman 5 3-4 15, Banks 3 0-1 6, Arts 2 3-4 7, Carr 2 3-5 7, Jencks 2 3-4 7. Totals; 24 20-26 74.
- Suwannee 15 25 13 24 — 77
- Rutherford 8 13 19 34 — 74
- 3-point goals: Suwannee 7 (Taylor 4, Ross, McAllister, Gardner), Rutherford 6 (Steele 2.Williamson 2, Spearman 2). Total fouls: Suwannee 14, Rutherford 17. Fouled out: none.
Rickards 47, Bay 33
TALLAHASSEE — Rickards advanced to play Suwannee in the regional semifinal. Bay’s finished 16-12. No other details were available as of press time.