For four years, Alexus Norman has spent part of her winter break in the gymnasium at Bradenton Christian School. The Smoothie King Classic has been a staple of her high school career, and in recent years Bayshore’s supremacy has gone unchallenged.
When her run started, Norman was a junior varsity player, sitting on the bench during a brief call-up during tournament season. As a senior, she has helped carry the Bruins. Norman finished one rebound shy of a double-double Wednesday in the semifinals, and Bayshore advanced to its fifth straight appearance in the Smoothie King title game with a 49-38 win against Lake Placid.
“It’s great,” Norman said. “It just makes me want to push to get the last one, especially since it’s my last year.”
Bayshore (7-5) led wire-to-wire against the Dragons, pushed its lead to as many as 19 during the third quarter and never let Lake Placid (8-6) slice its lead to single digits during the second half.
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The Bruins, who used a six-player rotation, did so despite foul trouble. Junior starter Haley Sauve spent more than half the game on the bench, and four Bayshore players played all 32 minutes. The Bruins’ interior tandem of Norman and Jasmine Youngthunder helped them keep the Dragons at bay.
Norman finished with a game-high 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Youngthunder, another senior, scored 11 points, grabbed eight rebounds and logged five steals. Together they form a foundation Bayshore hopes it can ride to success as the season progresses.
“Hopefully we hit our stride toward the end of the season, so we’re still learning each other’s ins and outs, and what they can and can’t do,” head coach Jamaal Sanders said. “Once we get it all together we’ll be a better team.”
Wednesday’s win in Bradenton was evidence of what the Bruins could become. Against another playoff hopeful, Bayshore scored its second straight-double digit win and ensured a top-two finish at the Smoothie King less than a week after taking third at the Lady Ram Jam Holiday Tournament in Sarasota.
The Bruins can win their fourth straight Smoothie King championship against Bradenton Christian on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. Lake Placid will face Braden River in the third-place game at 3:30 p.m.
Another win, against the No. 3 team in Florida Association of Basketball Coaches/Source Hoops poll, would provide an additional layer of validation after a strong two-week stretch. Youngthunder, who has been one of Bayshore’s top performers this season, is in her first season with the program and her versatility makes a player teammates need to adjust to.
As the calendar turns to 2017, Sanders can see his Bruins starting to congeal, even if they still have a long way to go.
“There’s not really one thing you can put your hand on,” Sanders said. “Even though we’re not shooting well from the free-throw percentage or from the field, I think we’re scrapping a little bit more and getting ourselves opportunities to win games.”
Bradenton Christian 52, Braden River 45: Despite scoring 16 points during the second half, the Panthers (14-0) held on to beat the Pirates (3-10) and set up a rematch of last year’s Smoothie King Classic championship. Guard Sophie Giardina and forward Bailey Sikkema carried Bradenton Christian’s offense, scoring 20 and 14 respectively. Hannah Witham paced Braden River with 14 points and Amiya Hopkins added 12.
“Our press was working well, but we didn’t have as many opportunities to get into it because we missed our little chip shots again,” Bradenton Christian head coach Janelle Hochstetler said. “It kind of comes back to us, so sometimes you can’t get that set up and you have to go into your halfcourt.”
The Panthers (14-0) will try to avenge a loss to the Bruins from last year in Thursday’s championship game at 6:30 p.m. The Pirates (3-10) will meet Lake Placid in the third-place game at 3:30 p.m.
Lemon Bay 44, Cardinal Mooney 19: The Cougars suffered a second straight blowout loss at the Smoothie King Classic, falling to a balanced effort by Lemon Bay. Guard Lauren Maheu and forward Francesca Gallucci were the only Manta Rays in double figures. Each scored 12 to lead the Mantas into the fifth-place game. Jacqueline Kulle led Mooney (2-11) with seven.
Lemon Bay will meet St. Petersburg Shorecrest Prep with fifth place on the line Thursday at 12:30 p.m. Cardinal Mooney will open the final day of the tournament against Sebring at 9:30 in the seventh-place game.
Shorecrest Prep 36, Sebring 23: Shorecrest Prep prevailed in the low-scoring contest against the Blue Streaks in a consolation game. Wings Renee Dacres and Sofia Gonzalez combined for nearly a third of Shorecrest’s points with 11 and 10, respectively. Laurie Brown accounted for nearly all of the Blue Streaks’ offense with 14 points.
Cardinal Mooney vs. Sebring, 9:30 a.m.
Lemon Bay vs. Shorecrest Prep, 12:30 p.m.
Braden River vs. Lake Placid, 3:30 p.m.
Bayshore vs. Bradenton Christian, 6:30 p.m.