BRADENTON -- The first time John Harder got a glimpse of the 2015-16 iteration of St. Petersburg Lakewood, he was stunned by the lack of familiar faces on the roster. Particularly in the backcourt, where Lakewood landed a pair of transfers from St. Petersburg Admiral Farragut, the Spartans had a new style.
For the entire first half and deep into the second, Lakewood's pressure overwhelmed Southeast and even with a late push the Seminoles dropped the first meeting between Class 5A-District 11 powerhouses 56-50 at Benjamin "Buzz" Narbut Memorial Gymnasium.
"This team's for real. They're ranked No. 2 in the state," said Harder, the Noles' head coach. "It's a powerhouse."
Southeast (8-2, 4-1) trailed 27-14 at halftime and after committing seven turnovers in the first 4:26 of the third quarter, the Spartans' lead ballooned to 21 points -- the largest it was all game.
The Seminoles lean on a trio of steady guards -- Shauntavia Green, Breyonna Reed and Sophie Giardina -- but Lakewood's full-court man-to-man pressure flustered all three. Reed, the Noles' leading scorer, went 5-for-15 for 14 points. Giardina, who hits from 3-point range at 45 percent, failed to score. Only Green strung together consistent offense, and 12 of her 14 points came in the fourth quarter.
Southeast had four days off between Friday's win against Tarpon Springs and Wednesday's loss to Lakewood (8-2, 6-0), and spent the time preparing for the Spartan press. Harder brought the boys team in for practice in an effort to simulate Lakewood's relentlessness and athleticism. Until midway through the third quarter, the Seminoles faltered.
"It was effective. They turned the ball over on us umpteen times and nobody turns the ball over on Southeast," Harder said. "It came as a shock to the kids because I've got wonderful guards.
"I could have three of the best guards in the state and they're not used to that pressure."
With a 21-point deficit, Harder sent Reed to the bench and switched Green to the primary ballhandler. The change of pace created a more effective press break for the Noles and they begin to chip away at the Spartans' lead.
Forward Marline Valcin camped behind in the paint as Green worked in the backcourt. Once there was a seam, Green either went to the basket or fed Valcin. When Green missed she was drawing a defender and Valcin was able to gather a rebound and put it back. When she pulled the defense out early, she skipped a pass into Valcin for an easy bucket.
The junior scored 10 of her 17 points in the third quarter and also led the Seminoles with nine rebounds.
Despite the carelessness early, the Noles cut Lakewood's lead all the way down to five with 21 seconds remaining.
On Jan. 7 these two will meet again in St. Petersburg and after Wednesday nearly turned into an outright disaster Southeast actually left Narbut Gymnasium with a bit of confidence.
"They were better than us tonight," Harder said. "What I liked best from my group is that they didn't quit and they had the opportunity in the second half to let people know they're not gonna quit. We play them another time if not two times or three more times. We should've learned something from tonight."