Hawks eliminated, will build on playoff experience
Viera High senior Alec Eugene gets off a shot against Winter Haven during Thursday night's Class 6A regional quarterfinal. Winter Haven used a dominant second quarter and an 8-0 run to open the third quarter to pull away for a 65-40 victory.
VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala
This is how far the Viera High boys basketball program has come in just one year under coach Logan Keith:
Thursday night’s 65-40 loss to visiting Winter Haven in the Class 6A boys basketball regional quarterfinals wasn’t just the end of a magical season that saw the Hawks make the state tournament for only the fifth time in program history.
Instead, it should be looked at as the building block for what’s to come.
“That’s part of growing up,” Keith said. “This program … we want to play in these kinds of games. The regional quarterfinals. That’s the expectation, to compete for a district championship and to make the playoffs.
“It was great for our guys to be part of this game, to see what our region looks like and to go to work in the offseason.”
Viera came into Thursday night’s game knowing that Winter Haven would be physical, athletic and that the Blue Devils would crash the boards like their lives depended on it.
And that’s just what happened Thursday as a very good Winter Haven team dominated the glass and pressured the Hawks into making the kinds of mistakes, they had been able to avoid on the way to winning the District 5 championship by beating Melbourne – at Melbourne no less.
“We had problems boxing out,” Viera senior center Cooper Davis said. “They were what we scouted them to be – long, athletic and tenacious on the boards.”
The Hawks (16-12) were able to keep things close early, trailing just 19-14 after the first quarter. However, Winter Haven (23-8) would outscore Viera 12-5 over the next eight minutes, then started the third quarter on an 8-0 run to essentially put the game out of Viera’s reach.
Winter Haven will face top-seeded Bartow – which beat Melbourne 63-23 – in the regional semifinals. That game will be a rematch of the District 6 final.
Davis, who led the Hawks with 21 points, was taken out in the game’s closing moments.
He acknowledged cheers from the fans, hugged Keith and a few others and was greeted by teammates on the bench after playing in what was likely the final competitive basketball game of his career.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet,” said Davis, who is going to the University of Illinois to play football.
“I’m kind of looking around like, ‘Oh … yeah,’ I’m glad I came back for my senior year (after not playing as a junior). I had a really good time this year. (Being a) district champ is nothing short and this man, Coach Keith, is going to do great things here.”
While the Hawks had a great season in 2017-18, reaching the regional semifinals, the team finished 6-15 last year.
Keith, who spent 15 years at Rockledge (the last 13 as head coach) before coming to Viera, has established a work ethic and a philosophy that Davis believes can only elevate the Hawks’ program in the years to come.
“He’s put in a mentality that we’re going to get better and better every single day,” Davis said. “We’re going to get shots up every day and we’re going to work on our offensive and defensive skills every day.
“There’s no days off. It’s just tenacious here.”
For his part, Keith said Davis is just the kind of player the Hawks are looking for … and that the senior’s competitive nature is going to serve the defensive lineman well when he gets to Illinois.
“When it comes to being a competitor … Coop didn’t have to play basketball. A thousand things (could have happened),” Keith said. “But he wanted to compete. That’s the difference.
“When all those kids get to Illinois, now the coach has to find which ones want to compete. Because everybody’s going to be big, strong and fast. I’ll tell you right now, he’s going to be a competitor. He’s going to compete every day because he did here.
“He was a big part of what we wanted to do night in and night out. I wish he was a kid I could have coached for four years. Man, that would have been a lot of fun. You talk about a great attitude. And, he was a really good teammate.”
Thursday’s game was also the final one in uniform for Viera senior Alec Eugene (six points), who certainly played a big role in the Hawks being able to earn the No. 4 seed in the regionals after winning the district championship.
Juniors James Goffigan (five points), Tyler Cooley (five points) and Manny Luma (three points), meanwhile, will be part of the building blocks for the Hawks moving forward.
After all, expectations around the Viera program have definitely gone up.
“I think what we have is some really great momentum heading into our offseason,” Keith said. “We’ll take a few days off, but I expect us to be in the weight room next week and back to getting up shots.
“We’ve got to get better. This isn’t a one-time deal. Basketball is something that you’ve got to do year-round. Like most sports, you’ve got to train. You’ve got to get better. That’s what we’ll do.”