LAKEWOOD RANCH — With four freshmen in its starting lineup, the Lakewood Ranch High girls basketball team doesn’t know that winning seasons aren’t commonplace.
The Lady Mustangs aren’t familiar with the feeling of walking the court as the district runner-up.
They don’t know they aren’t supposed to go out and beat other varsity teams with more depth and experience.
All they do know is to come out with intensity and a willingness to win, and the rest will take care of itself.
Such was the case last Friday night when Lakewood pulled away down the stretch, defeating Palmetto 37-32 in the Class 6A-District 12 championship and capturing the program’s first district championship.
“It’s surreal right now,” coach Tina Hadley says. “I’m happy that we won, but it just hasn’t sunk in yet. It’s a sweet victory, especially for them. The sweet part is now we have to try to defend it every year, so we have some hard work ahead of us.”
Although the Lady Mustangs (16-8) had their sights set on a district title, it wasn’t until midway through the season, when the wins began to pile up, that Hadley began to believe that youth could’ve been what Lakewood needed all along.
But, along with youth comes inexperience, and the Lady Mustangs made their fair share of mistakes while turning the ball over 30 times. They just had the presence of mind to fight through it.
“I think they reacted as freshmen tonight, but, along with being a freshman, when the coach says, ‘Run through the wall!’ they’re going to try and run through the wall,” Hadley says. “When I asked them to pick up the intensity, they did just that.”
Trailing 21-16 at halftime, Lakewood came out in the second half and went on a 9-2 run to take a 25-23 lead.
“I just told them we’ve got to pick up the intensity and we have to crash the boards and get a rebound,” Hadley says.
With the game tied at 28 with 3:46 left in the fourth quarter, freshman Kyra Klarkowski sank a pair of free throws and junior Emily Bulfin and freshman Elise Spiller scored a pair of layups to give the Lady Mustangs a 34-28 lead. Spiller scored the game’s final three points, as Lakewood held on down the stretch.
Bulfin finished with 13 points to lead the way for Lakewood. Spiller and freshman Kailyn Scully both finished with 10 points.
“We’re all really happy,” Bulfin says. “We still won with 30 turnovers, which is kind of hard. We just really tried to turn up the intensity.
“We already beat them twice, but you can’t come out and think we’re going to win right away because they aren’t just going to roll over and die,” Bulfin says.
With the win, Lakewood will host District 11 runner-up Strawberry Crest in a Class 6A-Region 3 quarterfinal at 7 p.m. Feb. 7. The winner will face the winner of the other quarterfinal between Palmetto and Tampa Sickles in the regional semifinals Feb. 12.
“The more we played, the better they became,” Hadley says. “They didn’t show that tonight, though. They out-hustled the other team at the end of the game. I’m pretty sure we should try and be able to pull it together by the time we play on Thursday.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].
+ Lady Pirates season ends in semifinals
The Braden River High girls basketball team saw its season come to an end with a 63-54 loss to Port Charlotte in the Class 7A-District 11 semifinals Jan. 30.
The Lady Pirates, who pride themselves on defense, trailed 26-13 at the end of the first quarter and were unable to bounce back.
“We outscored Port Charlotte the remainder of the game and held them to six points in the second quarter, but (we) had already put ourselves in a huge hole,” coach Carl Williams says. “Regardless, with three minutes left in the game, we were only down by two (points), but we just couldn’t pull it out.”
Braden River lost three of its starters within a span of two minutes, which took its toll on the Lady Pirates. Alexis Stout broke her nose; Kiki Mitchell took a hard fall and was transported to the hospital with an elbow injury; and Kelly Logan went down with an ankle injury. The Lady Pirates also spent half of the game without Madison Jaco due to illness.
It was the final game for Stout and Mitchell and fellow seniors Cheyenne Ogline and Erica Glisson.
“No matter what, we showed heart,” Williams says. “Those girls are gutsy.”
Braden River advanced to the district semifinals with a 58-23 victory over Manatee in the Class 7A-District 11 quarterfinals Jan. 28.
Ogline scored 15 points, and Jaco added 15 points, seven rebounds, four steals and two blocks to lead the way for the Lady Pirates. Stout finished with 10 points and six assists. Glisson added seven points and five steals.
In a season in which Braden River broke 13 school records, including nine team and four individual records, the Lady Pirates learned the importance of teamwork. They overcame adversity and fought for a larger cause.
“We enjoyed some incredible team bonding events, overcame obstacles, cried and laughed together and most importantly, got the chance (for our team) to adopt and bring a smile to a wonderful child, (Eddie Livingston),” Williams says. “I will miss the seniors. They left a beautiful mark at this school and one that will remain forever.”