Worries have been few for Lakewood Ranch High School on the court this season. As they’ve built themselves into Manatee County’s premier team this winter, the Mustangs have cruised through the schedule with seldom a single-digit game.
Wednesday was a rare challenge. Lakewood Ranch traveled south to North Port and trailed for nearly all of the first three quarters, falling into a hole as large as 17 points and taking a seven-digit deficit into the final period before earning a five-point win. The turnaround a few days later — a 60-41 rout of Punta Gorda Charlotte on Saturday — was an important moment for Jeremy Schiller.
“Against North Port,” the head coach said, “we didn’t defend at the high level we usually do.”
The meeting with Charlotte, another team with a record hovering near .500, in the Battle at the Beach in Venice High School’s gymnasium followed a path Schiller expected to see against the Bobcats. The Mustangs (12-2) trailed for nine seconds, built a 13-point lead before the end of the first quarter and allowed the Tarpons (6-7) to draw closer for only a brief spell during the fourth quarter.
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“Our kids bounced back mentally,” Schiller said. “They’re ready to fight, battle, scratch and try to go on a run at some point.”
Schiller admitted Lakewood Ranch may be suffering from complacency as it enters the final stretch of district play. The Mustangs have yet to lose to a team from Florida, and North Port is the only team to come within single digits. The Mustangs’ response at the start of Saturday’s game became a moment to watch.
Lakewood Ranch’s offense was sloppy early. The Mustangs missed eight of their first 11 shots before Schiller dug in toward the end of the bench. Kodey Elliott was Lakewood Ranch’s ninth player off the bench and dropped in a layup on his first possession off the bench to give the Mustangs a 12-7 lead. A minute later, he sunk an inside-out 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded to give Lakewood Ranch a 22-9 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Mustangs finished with one player in double figures — guard Devin Twenty led the way with 11 — and Elliott was their No. 2 option against the Tarpons with nine. Lakewood Ranch tends to go at least nine players deep and during Saturday’s rout 10 players scored.
“We talk about next man up kind of thing,” Schiller said of Elliott. “He hasn’t gotten the consistent minutes. He’s been kind of the outside looking in as that ninth, 10th guy, but he came in and made plays, and that’s awesome. Most high school coaches don’t have the luxury of having kids mature or enough to do that or good enough to do that.”
Guards Damien Gordon and Blauvelt Georges each added eight more points for the Mustangs and otherwise their teammates were just putting in a bucket here or there. Forward Justin Muscara led Lakewood Ranch with 12 rebounds.
During the fourth quarter, Charlotte trimmed the deficit to 12, 53-41, with 4:36 remaining. However, the Mustangs closed on a 7-0 run.
“You want your kids to be mature enough to play all the time, but we aren’t always like that,” Schiller said. “As it got close it was nice to see kids step up and make plays to kind of extend back out to where it needed to be.”