ST. PETERSBURG -- Robert Kelly’s initial hope was to win the basketball game.
That didn’t happen.
So in the wake of Palmetto’s 68-45 loss to St. Petersburg Lakewood during a Class 4A-District 10 semifinal Wednesday night, Kelly, the Tigers’ head coach, went to his second choice: that his girls paid attention.
“We have to take it as a learning experience, and we have to deal with it,” Kelly said. “It shows that you’ve got to work extra hard in the offseason to play at a level that Lakewood played at.”
Palmetto (18-8) hung with the top-seeded Spartans early on and headed into halftime down just six.
Understandably, Kelly was feeling pretty good as he walked to the locker room.
“We said, ‘We’re in good position. We can overcome three baskets,’” he said.
The top-seeded Spartans, however, never let Palmetto do that. The Tigers closed to within 29-24 with 6:46 left in the third quarter before Lakewood closed the frame on a 20-8 run.
Leading the charger was sophomore Tianah Alvarado, who finished with five steals, 22 points and 17 rebounds. Fourteen of Alvarado’s points came during the second half, when Lakewood -- which heads to Lakewood Ranch for Friday’s 7 p.m. championship game -- outscored fourth-seeded Palmetto 41-24.
The Tigers shot under 27 percent in the final two periods.
“We just kept missing our shots,” Kelly said. “We had the shots -- they just wouldn’t fall.”
There were bright spots. Sophomore Alyssa Ward finished with 17 points and eight rebounds, which bodes well for a Palmetto team that loses seniors Ashley Smith and Sidneshia Terrell.
Smith had 12 points and Terrell had four points and seven rebounds Wednesday.
“You ask a young team to play hard, stay in the ballgame, keep their heads focused in the game -- they did what they could do,” Kelly said.
Now Kelly wants his team to put what they learned into practice, beginning with this offseason.
“Hopefully, the mistakes that we made (Wednesday), we won’t make them next year at this time,” he said. “In the offseason, that’s where you make the difference -- get in the weight room, get in your books, work on your athletic fundamentals, work on your ball handling. Everything will come into play.”