LAKEWOOD RANCH -- It was a statement game, and the host Lakewood Ranch girls basketball team made sure its voice was heard.
The Mustangs jumped out to an early lead and coasted to a 60-38 victory over Palmetto on Tuesday night in the Class 7A-District 10 opener for both teams.
Lakewood Ranch and Palmetto came in with 6-0 records, looking to get a jump on the other in what figures to be a tight race for the top seed in the district tournament.
It was also the 100th win for Lakewood Ranch head coach Tina Hadley, who was so caught up in the game she forgot about reaching the charmed mark. She has a 100-95 record since taking over the team in 2006.
"When the game ended I wasn't thinking about the 100th victory. I was just glad we played so well," Hadley said.
Emily Bulfin, the Mustangs' only senior, made sure it would be a special night for her coach, pouring in a game-high 28 points while draining 4-of-11 from beyond the arc. She scored 17 in the first half with four 3-pointers in helping Lakewood Ranch to a 35-18 halftime lead.
"Emily was phenomenal. When she is hot, she just can't miss," Hadley said. "But it's not just her shooting. She plays with intensity and gets in the passing lanes, gets steals and does a good overall job."
Hadley, who won her first district title last season, appears to have a bright future with this team. Her two inside players, 6-foot-3 LaDazhia Williams and 5-8 Aleah Robinson, do a good of controlling the boards, allowing Lakewood Ranch to fire a way from long range.
Williams had 13 points and 13 rebounds. Robinson pulled down 11 boards and blocked four shots while guard Kailyn Scully chipped in 10 points.
"Coming into the game, our biggest concern was getting outrebounded because they have so much height and are big on the inside, but we were able to outrebound them (36-35)," Hadley said.
Palmetto struggled for most of the game and couldn't get much going offensively. Junior guard Jermisha Col
lins led the Tigers with 17 points and 11 rebounds.
"We gave it to them. They are a good basketball team, but we just couldn't knock down the shots when we had to and missed so many layups," Palmetto head coach Robert Kelly said. "We missed too many free throws, got out of a position on defense and just didn't play Palmetto ball. We know we are better than that."
Tina Stephens helped Palmetto on the boards with nine rebounds, and 6-foot senior Rilida McDuffie had seven points and three rebounds.
The Tigers made a run early in the second half and cut their deficit to 36-22, but Bulfin scored four straight points to spark a 16-2 run that enabled Lakewood Ranch to take a commanding a 52-26 lead into the fourth quarter.
"I can give a lot of reasons why we didn't play well, but the bottom line is we just didn't get it done," Kelly said. "I am not going to make excuses. We are going to get it fixed."