Fans hung over the railing from the balcony view inside the Panther Den, while the remaining spectators occupied the seats.
This wasn’t a standard girls basketball regional final.
Rather, this was a community gathering between two Bradenton private schools, just 1.8 miles away from each other, vying for a coveted Final Four berth in next week’s Florida High School Athletic Association Class 3A semifinals.
“We’re usually sitting in front of 20 or 30 fans at a regular season game,” Saint Stephen’s head coach Mike Verrill said. “There was at least a couple hundred. Maybe 300. It was great for girls basketball.”
Bradenton Christian defeated Saint Stephen’s 57-34 to earn a return trip to the 3A state semifinals. The Panthers, who received double-digit scoring games from Amy Van Ryn (19 points, five steals), Bailey Sikkema (13 points, eight rebounds) and Savannah Woodland (12 points, six rebounds), also defeated the Falcons for the fourth time this season.
The game served as a throwback for BCS head coach Janelle Hochstetler, who played her high school basketball in the small town of Hillsboro, North Dakota.
“It totally had that feel,” Hochstetler said. “... Where everybody knows everyone.”
Van Ryn said she was good friends with Falcons senior LeNae Jones (12 points) in middle school.
Jones wished Van Ryn good luck in the next round during the postgame handshake, Van Ryn said.
Playing a rival was a different feeling for BCS than last year’s regional final in Naples against First Baptist Academy.
Van Ryn said there were only a handful of fans that could make that long journey.
It was the opposite Tuesday.
“It was like a guy’s game with everybody on their feet and everybody was cheering, and they were like that at first,” Van Ryn said.
The crowd simmered a bit as the game turned into a BCS rout.
The Panthers play North Lauderdale Somerset Prep in a 3A state semifinal Monday night at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland. The game time will be either 6 p.m. or 8 p.m.