The Villages Daily Sun

Leesburg denies host VHS title in Battle at The Villages

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Posted: Sunday, December 31, 2017 8:00 am

For the first time ever, the Battle at The Villages championship trophy is staying put in the Sunshine State.

The Leesburg Yellow Jackets took down The Villages High School boys basketball team, 74-61, Saturday in the Battle championship game, becoming the first team from Florida to win the highly-acclaimed boys basketball tournament in its four-year history.

“It feels good to win — it always feels good to win, especially in front of a crowd in a hyped game,” said Leesburg senior Cordrayius Graham, who posed for photos with the basketball-shaped trophy after the game. “I like it.”

Pope John XXIII (New Jersey), Gahanna Lincoln (Ohio) and Archbishop Moeller (Ohio) captured the first three tournament championships at The Villages High School.

Leesburg (10-1) put VHS (10-2) in an early hole Saturday, swarming the Buffalo defensively in the first quarter en route to a 19-5 advantage. VHS did not make a field goal in the first quarter, scoring all five points from the free-throw line.

“Our defensive intensity, our defensive pressure, that’s what we pride ourselves on,” said Sean Campbell, Leesburg head coach. “We know that any game that we go into, that if we go into those games and we’re solid defensively, that we’re always going to be in the game.”

VHS went point for point with Leesburg after the first quarter, but it wasn’t enough for head coach Colt McDowell’s

Buffalo to claim their first Battle championship.

“I think we played a really talented, really well-coached, and a really tough team that’s been in a lot of big games and knew how to handle that moment a little bit better than we did as a group,” McDowell said of Leesburg, the defending Class 6A state champions. “I don’t think we were as focused on our scout report, (defense) and the things that we needed to do. We were more thinking about winning a championship, and when you start thinking about the result, it affects your effort. I think that’s what happened in the first quarter, and I give them all the credit.”

The Buffalo had a first quarter to forget Saturday in front of a packed VHS Gymnasium, failing to make a field goal the first eight minutes of play as the Yellow Jackets jumped out to a 19-5 lead.

VHS junior Byron Smith did his best to carry the Buffalo in the second period, pouring in nine points, but Leesburg still went into halftime with a

31-18 cushion. The Buffalo collected nine of their 18 first-half points via free throws.

The Yellow Jackets widened their lead to as many as

21 points in the third quarter, courtesy of a two-handed slam dunk by Lance Erving with a little more than five minutes remaining in the period. VHS ended the third quarter on a

7-0 run, however, to slice the deficit back down to 13, 53-40.

The Buffalo maintained this same fight into the fourth quarter, tallying eight straight points — six off of back-to-back 3-pointers by junior Tre Mann — to pull within eight, 63-55, with less than four minutes to go. Leesburg didn’t let VHS get any closer, though, holding off the Buffalo’s rally attempt to snag a 74-61 win.

“Just going in, Colt has kind of turned into a brother to me, personally. I know I call him a lot — probably too much,” Campbell said jokingly about McDowell, who used to coach and play at Leesburg. “Just going into the game, I knew it was going to be a hard-fought, tough game — and they can shoot the ball. They can flat-out shoot the ball, and all of his kids can play. They’re well-coached, so you know no matter how much you’re up, you’re going to have to keep your defensive intensity the whole game because you’re never going to be in a position where you can relax at all.”

McDowell said he was pleased with his Buffalo’s resiliency after a rough first quarter.

“We could have folded — we were down 53-33 at one point. A lot of teams would fold in that situation. We didn’t,” McDowell said. “A lot of good is going to come from it. There’s no shame in losing to Leesburg. They’re really good, and they actually took it to us tonight.”

Like his coach, Mann believes the Buffalo can benefit from Saturday’s loss

to Leesburg.

“It’s showed us a team that we’re going to play in the deep regionals,” said Mann, who led VHS with 27 points. “We’re going to come into practice, ready to prepare for more teams like that, and it’s going to help us out a lot.”

Last season, the Buffalo played their way to the

Class 5A state final four after a third-place finish at the Battle.

As for Graham and his Yellow Jackets, they’re already anxious to see what the rest of their 2017-18 season will bring.

“We won (the Battle championship) — it’s over,” Graham said. “We can’t keep being happy about what happened today, or we’re not going to get anything done tomorrow. Starting Monday, we’re back in the gym and we’re back grinding.”

VHS, which is 10-2 overall and 3-0 in district play, will return to action at 7 p.m. Friday for a Class 5A-District 5 showdown at Trinity Catholic High School in Ocala.

Tyler Breaman is a staff writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5226, or

Leesburg 74, The Villages 61

Leesburg (74)

Lance Erving 29, Cordrayius Graham 21, Decorian Patterson 14, Keon Ellis 4, Leonard Manuel 4, Deshawn Benton 2.

The Villages (61)

Tre Mann 27, Byron Smith 21, Adrian McCray 7, Jacob Truax 3, Peyton Williams 2, Mac Harris 1.

Leesburg    19    12    22    21    —    74

The Villages    5    13    22    21    —    61

Records: Leesburg 10-1, Villages 10-2; Halftime: Leesburg 31-18. Free Throws: Leesburg 10-15; Villages 19-25. 3-Point Goals: Leesburg 4 (Lance Erving 3, Keon Ellis 1); Villages 4 (Tre Mann 3, Byron Smith 1).


Calvary Christian Academy (Fort Lauderdale) took advantage of a strong third quarter to beat Tampa Prep, 64-52, and finish the tournament with one victory. The Eagles outscored Tampa Prep, 18-8, in the third period after going into halftime up just 34-28. Solomon Uyaelunmo tallied 24 points for Calvary Christian Academy, making him the Eagles’ leading scorer in all three of their Battle games. Christian Schach collected 15 points for Tampa Prep, while Gabriel Sharp and Jaren Phillips each scored 14 points.

5th-Place Game: OSCEOLA 65, FLORIDA PREP 63 (Overtime)

After erasing a nine-point deficit to force overtime, Osceola (Kissimmee) edged Florida Prep (Melbourne) in overtime, 65-63, to place fifth overall. Osceola trailed 44-35 after the third quarter, but erupted for 22 points in the fourth quarter to force overtime. The Kowboys then held on for victory in overtime, thanks in part to four free throws. Osceola’s Isaiah Palermo notched 15 of his team-leading 21 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. AJ Johnson posted 17 points for Florida Prep, while teammate Dejuon Small added 16 points.


In thrilling fashion, Covington Catholic (Kentucky) squeaked by Pickerington Central (Ohio), 75-68, in overtime. Pickerington Central’s Juan Elmore tied the game at 63-63 with his basket in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter, but Covington Catholic used a 7-0 run in overtime to pull away from the Tigers. CJ Fredrick led Covington Catholic with 23 points, while Jake Walter poured in 21 points and Aiden Ruthsatz scored 19 points. Elmore collected 19 points himself for Pickerington Central, which outscored the Colonels, 22-11, in the fourth quarter.

All-Tournament Team

Gabriel Sharp, Tampa Prep

Solomon Uyaelunmo, Calvary Christian Academy

Kmani Doughty, Florida Prep

Josh Marte, Osceola

CJ Fredrick, Covington Catholic

Adrian Nelson, Pickerington Central

Tre Mann, The Villages

Decorian Patterson, Leesburg

All-Rookie Team

Armani Thomas, Osceola

Moussa Diabate, Florida Prep

Michael Mayer, Covington Catholic

Josiah Fulcher, Pickerington Central

Leonard Manuel, Leesburg

Most Outstanding Player

Lance Erving, Leesburg

Most Valuable Player

Cordrayius Graham, Leesburg

Outstanding Defensive Player

Byron Smith, The Villages