BRADENTON -- They were minutes into the first game of their own holiday basketball tournament Wednesday when the Southeast Seminoles came face-to-face with yet another injury.
This time it was Bevin Mays, a junior guard, who appeared poised to join the Seminoles' ever-growing list of walking wounded. Called for a charging foul, Mays came crashing down on her side and hit her head on the floor before she was ushered into the trainer's room.
Fast forward to the fourth quarter, however, and there was Mays, sinking key lay-ups and hauling in even bigger rebounds to lift the Noles to a 43-33 win over Lakeland Kathleen during the first round of the Ninth Annual Willie Clemons Girls Basketball Classic.
It was a gutsy performance that helped personify the gutsy Noles (12-1), who overcame an early eight-point deficit and rough performance from the field to reach Thursday's semifinals, where they will meet Tampa Sickles at 6:30 p.m.
"I was really nervous. I was about to cry, because I didn't think I was going to come back," Mays said while clutching a bag of ice after game. "It seems like everybody on the team has an injury, so I was like, 'I can't have an injury, too, because that's even more stress on Coach.'"
Janelle Gould, Southeast's top reserve, is out for a week. Her replacement, Daisha Kelly, suffered a knee injury Wednesday. And Breanna Nice, one of Southeast's best shooters, is playing with a sprained wrist and hasn't practiced all week.
No wonder Mays wanted desperately to come back in, and did so after being evaluated by Southeast trainer John Karl.
"Considering the odds were stacked against us," said Noles coach John Harder, "I feel we did good."
The beginning was anything but. Kathleen (8-4) stormed to a 10-2 with 1:20 left in the first quarter thanks in part to Christin Strawbridge, a 6-foot-2 forward who powered her way to three quick first-period baskets.
But Southeast junior Keshawna Robinson limited Strawbridge, who came in averaging roughly 18 points per game, to four points in the final three quarters. Southeast's offense slowy started to awaken, and the Seminoles took the lead for good when Breyonna Reed came off the bench and snapped a 12-12 tie with a layup five minutes before halftime.
Reed scored again a minute later before Southeast put the game in the hands of its defense, which forced 30 Red Devils turnovers and recorded 14 steals. DeAngela Mathis paced the Noles with five. Consequently,
Southeast prevailed despite shooting 32 percent from the field.
"We knew our shot wasn't there, and we didn't have the strength of our offense that we normally have," Harder said. "In fact, I only called two offense and we have six, and I couldn't go to any of our detailed offense because it wasn't going to work...I tried to stress at half the defense, and that does it."
Mays scored nine points, all in the second half, and pulled in six rebounds, and Mathis had 14 points, including eight in the second quarter. Robinson had eight rebounds for Southeast.
"I felt like I let my team down in the first quarter by leaving," Mays said. "I felt like I had to make it up to them in some type of way, so I was proud."
Next up for Southeast is Sickles, which is 13-1 and ranked 10th in Class 6A in the latest poll by Florida Association of Basketball Coaches and Source Hoops.
The Noles are seventh in Class 5A.
"The second half of the season is about getting ready for the districts," said Harder, whose Noles compete in District 12 with fourth-ranked St. Petersburg Lakewood. "If you can hang with a Sickles, you've got a shot at a St. Pete Lakewood. And since we're in the toughest district in the state of Florida, that's to my advantage, to have a chance to play Sickles."
TAMPA SICKLES 57, LAKEWOOD RANCH 36 --The Mustangs fell into a 20-0 first-quarter hole and never recovered in first-round action.
Kyra Klarkowski had 14 points for the Mustangs (7-4), who outscored the Gryphons 17-6 during the fourth quarter. Emily Bulfin added six for Ranch.
Cassidy O'Brien had 13 points for Sickles and Sarah Hartman added 16.
Lakewood Ranch plays Lakeland Kathleen at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in a consolation semifinal.