LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The Southeast girls basketball team is not ready to pass the torch.
The Seminoles made that clear in willing themselves to a 64-57 victory over previously undefeated Lakewood Ranch on Friday night.
Southeast (14-1) has lost only four games to Manatee County teams in 30 years under head coach John Harder. But the Noles might have been perceived as the underdog against a Ranch team ranked No. 2 in Class 7A.
Southeast last lost to a Manatee County team seven years ago, right on the same court when Lakewood Ranch beat the Seminoles by a point.
Harder won his 700th game earlier in the week, but it seemed as if the joy from the victory was going to be brief the way Lakewood Ranch dominated the Noles early in the game.
Southeast trailed 26-11 two minutes into the second quarter and looked ragged on defense while getting outrebounded and being sloppy with the ball.
Then the Noles decided to ratchet up their defensive intensity and turned the game around.
"We get 700, and I am thinking we don't get a chance to enjoy it. But we were not ready to give up the torch," Harder said. "Lakewood Ranch never would've let us forget it if we would've lost. The torch isn't passed until you are ready to give it up, and Southeast isn't ready to give it up."
From the 6:10 mark in the second period to the end of the third quarter Southeast outscored Lakewood Ranch 37-16 and forced 19 turnovers while limiting the Mustangs (13-1) to 6 for 19 shooting.
The Noles finally took the lead on a basket by DeAngela Mathis to go ahead 41-40 with 4 minutes, 45 seconds left in the third period. A basket by Bevin Mays broke a 42-42 deadlock and gave Southeast the lead for good with 1:25 remaining in the third quarter.
Double- and triple-teaming the ball all over the floor, Southeast forced Lakewood Ranch out of sync, and the Mustangs finished with 34 turnovers.
The bad news hit Lakewood Ranch on Thursday night when 5-8 freshman Aleah Robinson, the Mustangs' second-leading rebounder and third-leading scorer, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee and is out for the season. Then their starting point guard missed the game because of a planned trip to New York City. They dressed seven players and finished with four after three fouled out.
"I was down two starters so that didn't help," Lakewood Ranch head coach Tina Hadley said. "We had the lead, and they started pressuring the ball and we didn't handle it well. We just didn't have a leader on the floor and it's hard to be down two starters to a team like Southeast."
Lakewood Ranch also suffered a bad break when 6-foot-3 freshman LaDazhia Williams picked up her fourth floor early in the third quarter and missed nearly the entire second half, fouling out with 3:03 left in the game.
Williams had 10 rebounds in the first half and finished with 15 boards and 13 points. Emily Bulfin gave Lakewood Ranch a big boost in the first half with 17 points, but scored only three after intermission.
Southeast trailed 38-32 at halftime, but went on a 10-2 run to open the third period. Janelle Gould started the run with a layup off a steal. The point guard made her presence felt with a team-high eight steals, six rebounds and four assists, while chipping in nine points.
Mathis scored 15 points, dished out four assists and had six steals. Mays led Southeast with 17 points, Keshawna Robinson had 12 points and nine rebounds.
Bulfin led Lakewood Ranch with 20 points. Megan Hagy had 13 points and Jessica Reid added 11 points.
"This game was special because we are at a point now where the rivalry (in the county) is going to be Southeast and Lakewood Ranch," said Hadley, who played on Harder's first state championship team at Southeast in 1985.
Harder is ready to give Hadley her due that Lakewood Ranch is an up-and-coming program, but that is as far as he will go. "We are the target for every team in this county and have been for 30 years. I don't think that is going to change," the coach said.
The Seminoles won the junior varsity game 44-27 to improve to 14-1 behind Zikyra Cheaves' 15 points.