Prep Rally | Southeast girls basketball team still sets standard in Manatee County

jlembo@bradenton.comDecember 20, 2013 

PAUL VIDELA/ Southeast High School head girls basketball coach John Harder watches his team from the sideline during Saturday night's Class 3A-Region 3 final against Tampa Catholic.



When you talk about Friday night's Lakewood Ranch-Southeast girls basketball game, which is as big as a basketball game can get in late December, you have to start with John Harder.

Southeast's venerable head coach won his 700th game Tuesday, a milestone made much sweeter because it came at the expense of district nemesis St. Petersburg Lakewood.

That's a big number and a testament to Harder's staying power and ability to adapt. Those are unique qualities and, like Harder, should be savored.

But what's more impressive is that all these years later, Harder's Seminoles are still playing games like Friday's against Lakewood Ranch, which is well on its way to making this winter the best in program history.

All these years later and being queens of Manatee County still means beating Southeast.

Want subplots? We got them.

The Mustangs (12-0) are coached by Tina Hadley, one of several of Harder's former players now running a program of their own. It's something Harder takes as much pride in as those two state championship banners hanging inside Ben "Buzz" Narbut Gymnasium.

And it was the Mustangs who, in 2006, snapped Southeast's 72-game winning streak against county foes.

Now they meet in East Manatee: the upstart Mustangs, ranked second in Class 7A by Florida Association of Basketball Coaches and Source Hoops, the tradition-rich Seminoles (13-1), ranked fourth in Class 5A in the same poll.

It's a chance for the Mustangs to really make their mark on the local landscape, and it's a chance for the Seminoles to retain their title as Manatee County's best program.

There will be bigger games for both these

teams, whether you're talking about the upcoming holiday tournaments or the postseason.

And both teams are getting a playoff-caliber test, so each will be better for having played Friday night.

But for a regular-season game a few days before Christmas, Southeast at Lakewood Ranch as it big as it gets.

Credit Lakewood Ranch for what the Mustangs have built and credit the Seminoles, and Harder, for keeping that target on their back.

The greatest compliment a team can receive is the knowledge that everyone is coming after them.

Lakewood Ranch is coming after Southeast. Their paths cross tonight.

They'll be bigger games for bigger trophies.

But for a county steeped in pigskin tradition, Friday night belongs to roundball.

Happy holidays.

John Lembo, prep sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7057. Follow him on Twitter @JohnLembo1878.

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