The Pirates fell 80-58 to defending state champion Wekiva High.
A quarter and a half of mistake-filled basketball doomed the Braden River High girls basketball team on Thursday in the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 6A state semifinals.
It wasn't the game's beginning that troubled the Pirates. Braden River (17-9) came out strong against Wekiva High (23-7), the defending state champion, taking a quick 8-3 advantage thanks to crafty play from junior guard O'Mariah Gordon and company, taking advantage of misses and scoring in transition. The rest of the first half was back and forth, though the Pirates did lose the lead and trailed 35-29 at halftime.
It was the third quarter, and the start of the fourth, that put any thoughts of a down-to-the-wire contest to bed. Wekiva outscored Braden River 23-8 in the third, stretching the lead to 21. It did so with suffocating defensive pressure and electric ball movement on offense. For the game, Wekiva shot 50.9% from the floor — and 65.2% in the second half — compared to Braden River's 33.3%.
Wekiva carried that lead for the first part of the fourth, until the Pirates put on a full-court press, which rattled Wekiva and forced them into turnovers. The Pirates would get within 11 points, but the deficit was too large to overcome, and fouls made in an effort to conserve clock plus missed Pirates shots resulted in Wekiva's lead ballooning again.
Pirates coach Stephanie Smith said the team didn't play like itself until that late fourth-quarter run.
"We are inexperienced when it comes to playing in this type of arena and environment," Smith said. "You can chalk it up to that or to jitters, whatever you want to call it. I know my team can play how they did in the fourth quarter for (all) four quarters. (If) they played like that, I think it is a different outcome. I know it is. There is no way any team would score 80 points on us, ever. But give credit to Wekiva for what they did."
Smith also said she thinks her team got comfortable playing at home. The state semifinal, held at Lakeland's RP Funding Center, was the team's first road playoff game. Smith said that not only is the environment different, but the rims bounce differently. Teams like Wekiva that have played in Lakeland before have that advantage.
Gordon did her best to keep it close. She had a game-high 27 points in the loss, with six rebounds and three steals. The only other Pirate with double-figure points was senior Julia Rodriguez, who had 11.
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