The Mustangs beat Fleming Island 60-38 in the semifinals
The Lakewood Ranch High basketball team (23-6) was playing in the final four with a heavy heart, with the health of former Mustang Jack Kelley in its thoughts, but that hardly slowed the Mustangs down against Fleming Island High (21-3).
By the end of the first quarter, the Mustangs held an 18-7 advantage, and it became apparent that the Golden Eagles' trap defense had no answer for Lakewood Ranch's quick passing attack. That held true until the final buzzer. Lakewood Ranch beat Fleming Island 60-38, and will play Blanche Ely High in the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 8A state championship game at 4:30 p.m. March 9 at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland.
Junior guard Christian Shaneyfelt led the Mustangs with 21 points. Senior forward Josh Young was the only other Mustang in double-digits, with 10. Young also added a game-high eight rebounds. The rest of the scoring was spread out: junior guard Keon Buckley had nine points, senior guard Lantz Barton had seven, as did junior guard Christian Perez, while junior forward Carter Chapin had four and junior forward Luke Lecroy had two.
The Mustangs out-rebounded Fleming Island 32-18, limiting second-chance opportunities, and shot 66.7% from the floor. Mustangs coach Jeremy Schiller said he told his team he wanted them to score 80 points. While they didn't hit that mark, slowing the pace of play considerably in the second half, they were as efficient as he could have hoped. Schiller also said he liked his team's patience and control with the ball.
"Coach always tells us in practice, 'When you see the trap, you should get excited,'" Perez said. "It means everything else is gong to open up."
Fleming Island senior guard Gianfranco Grafals, the team's leading scorer at 19.9 points per game, was held to 13 points against Lakewood Ranch. He was the only Golden Eagles player in double-digits.
Fleming Island coach Traavis Chandler called Shaneyfelt a "tough matchup" and praised him for getting to the rim and capitalizing on his opportunities. While his team struggled rotating on defense, Chandler said, he credited Lakewood Ranch for getting through the "run and jump" defense Fleming Island has played all season.
Schiller said Jack Kelley's father, Mike Kelley, texted him this morning and wished him good luck, because he knew Jack would have done the same thing. Schiller said he told Mike Kelley the team going to try and win a state title for Jack, and they are now one game from doing just that.
"This journey has been phenomenal," Schiller said. "This is an awesome group of kids."
"Jack Strong" shirts are now available to purchase at Custom Ink, with all proceeds going to the Kelley family and Jack's recovery. The shirts were designed by Jack's friend and Braden River High graduate Miclayne Powell.
Blanche Ely High is led offensively by 6-foot-5 senior forward Joshua Scott (14.7 points per game), 6-foot-4 junior guard Aderes Staton-McCray (11.1) and 5-foot-11 junior guard Lamont Evans (10.3). The Tigers also feature 6-foot-5 junior wing Malachi Hazelton, who led the team with 14 points in its 56-54 semifinal win against Windermere High.