Bradenton Christian seemed to have someone in the passing lanes all night long, forcing turnover after turnover in a 63-38 victory against Naples First Baptist Academy on Tuesday to advance to the Class 3A girls basketball state semifinals.
The Panthers (28-1) will take on Tampa Carrollwood Day, a 51-43 winner against Orlando Christian Prep, on Tuesday at the Lakeland Center.
“Frankly, they were the better team tonight,” First Baptist (25-5) coach Jennifer Lines said. “Their speed, their defensive intensity was something we hadn’t seen a lot of this year. You can plan for it and try to practice for it. Obviously we knew that was their style. That was our No. 1 key, to not give up points in transition. We didn’t do a very good job of that, but a lot of that is to their credit.”
The Lions fell behind 8-0 in the first quarter but battled back to take a 16-15 lead into the second quarter before the Panthers really dug in defensively. Bradenton Christian sprinted out to a 23-18 lead in the first few minutes of the second and extended that advantage to 35-25 at halftime.
“I know Jennifer. I know her style of game. Her teams are fundamentally sound and she’s got such a well-prepared squad,” Panthers coach Janelle Hochstetler said. “We really wanted to shut down Paige (Scullin) on the inside and contain (Nicole Smith) on the outside. It was a matter of getting people in the right positions to be on the help side defensively and do what we do what we do in our offense in running the game.”
Hochstetler admitted the second quarter was likely the turning point since the Panthers really started to frustrate FBA defensively.
“That’s important for us,” Hochstetler said. “We’ve done OK trailing, but we really like to set the pace of the game. We picked up our pace defensively, which is what I always tell them — defense leads to offense.”
Bailey Sikkema led a balanced scoring effort for the Panthers with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Amy Van Ryn, playing for the first time in several weeks after battling mononucleosis, contributed 15 points and seven rebounds. Sophie Giardina added 13 points and, perhaps just as important, had nine steals. Smith led the Lions with 10 points.
The Panthers also got key contributions from Jessica Jackson, who had eight points, and Savannah Woodland, who was 5-for-5 from the free-throw line.
Naples Gulf Coast 72, Lakewood Ranch 66 (OT): It wound up being a night of “what if?” for the Mustangs, who lost in overtime in the Class 8A region semifinals.
What if one of Lakewood Ranch’s stars, Shauntavia Green, was on the court instead of on the sideline on crutches? Green was injured late in the Mustangs’ first-round victory against North Port.
What if the best player yet to wear a Mustangs uniform, LaDazhia Williams, hadn’t fouled out with 22.2 seconds left in regulation? Williams had 29 points and eight rebounds in her final high school game.
What if a few more of those foul shots had gone in during the fourth quarter? At one point, Lakewood Ranch missed five free throws in a row.
With every one of those “what ifs” hanging over the Mustangs (25-4), they still had the lead until Gulf Coast’s Yasmeen Chang drilled a 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left in regulation. And then hit a three to start overtime, which the Sharks (26-2) led all the way.
In the extra period, Sarah Fazio’s layup got the Mustangs within 64-63, but the Sharks pulled away in the closing seconds.
“All I can say is I’m proud of my girls,” Lakewood Ranch coach Tina Hadley said. “They played tough. We had to play overtime without (Williams). But they still fought. It was hard to swallow, because I felt like we had the game won. We had a couple of defensive breakdowns. We missed free throws, we missed a few key rebounds.
“It’s hard to swallow because we should have won the game.”
When University of South Carolina signee Williams fouled out with 22.2 seconds left, the Mustangs still led 55-53. Bust Gulf Coast hit two 3-pointers in the final 13.5 seconds of regulation.
“The girl had a great career,” Hadley said of Williams. “Best player ever in Manatee County. I don’t think we’ll see another one come through here. But hopefully I get another one.”
Fazio scored 10 of her 12 in the second half for Lakewood Ranch.