Lakewood Ranch boys basketball will look to follow the 2005 girls team's path to the title game.
It was not that they lost, but how they lost, that was so surprising.
Lakewood Ranch High, which will be missing star senior guard Christian Shaneyfelt for the rest of the season due to an ACL injury, fell to Riverview High 70-54 at home in the Class 7A District 8 championship game on Feb. 14. Despite it being Valentine's Day, there was no love lost between the opponents, as aggressive drives to the basket and physical defense got Riverview (23-5) an early lead it never relinquished. The loss breaks a streak of four-straight district championships for Lakewood Ranch.
The margin of the loss was particularly surprising given the Mustangs beat Riverview 84-79 in overtime on the road on Dec. 12. Of course, in that game, Shaneyfelt hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the game to overtime. Besides Shaneyfelt's absence, the Mustangs also did things in the district championship that they did not do in the first meeting, like turn over the ball on sloppy passes. They also struggled to defend the paint as Rams forwards Jayven Millien and David Mazon combined for 30 points.
"Riverview 100% deserves the district title," Mustangs coach Jeremy Schiller said. "I mean, they came out and made all their shots. We didn't defend at the level we have been during the second half the season. We have been holding teams around 36%, including some of the top teams in the state, and today Riverview came in prepared and they made a bunch of shots. I mean, they were on fire when it mattered. We just didn't have enough energy. Every time we would fight our way back, they would make a play (to stop the run). They were prepared for everything."
While the Mustangs (18-7) didn't look particularly good in the loss, the team is not toast. Lakewood Ranch secured the No. 6 at-large berth in the regional tournament. and will play Wharton (24-3) on the road at 7 p.m. on Thursday. You can bet Schiller will get his players to bounce back.
"Most people may not remember this, but when Tina (Hadley) had her state championship team (in 2015), that team lost its district final," Jeremy Schiller said. "Then they went and won three games on the road in the regional. We would like to continue that tradition and get back to the state championship game. The good news is we have four kids who are playing major minutes that have been there before and know what it takes."
Wharton and Lakewood Ranch have just one common opponent. Both teams beat Newsome High, though Lakewood Ranch won 40-37 and Wharton won 62-47.
If the Mustangs play against Wharton like they did against Riverview, this will likely be the end of their season. The good news is the loss might not be an accurate indication of the team's talent. This Mustangs team has beaten state title contender Lakewood High without Shaneyfelt. If the Mustangs play their best, they can beat anyone. With Shaneyfelt, though, their margin for error is smaller.
Having covered Schiller's teams for four seasons, I know they will be ready to play when it matters most.