BRADENTON -- Southeast’s young bunch of girls basketball players likes to have fun.
“We do play a little bit -- we’re not yet grown up,” sophomore DeAngela Mathis said with a smile.
But when it’s time to get serious, the Seminoles have little trouble exchanging those giggles for game faces.
Just ask any of the three teams Southeast beat during the 8th Annual Willie Clemons Girls Holiday Basketball Classic, including Tampa Sickles, which Southeast beat 50-34 on Wednesday during the finals of the Seminole Division.
“(Wednesday), they showed the enjoyment of the sport,” Southeast coach John Harder said while cradling the championship trophy, a bronzed replica basketball. “I want them to love basketball. But on the other hand, when it became crunch time, they still had it together. They’re growing up fast and they have to. ... I don’t have the senior leadership a lot of Southeast teams have had in the past.”
In its place is a starting lineup led by four sophomores, including Mathis, who was named the Seminole Division’s most valuable player and poured in a team-best 18 points Wednesday.
Then there was Keshawna Robinson, who scored 13 points, and Bevin Mays, who limited Sickles’ electric guard, Bre Crum, to 18 points. Crum, who was saddled with three fouls prior to halftime and fouled out late in the fourth quarter, scored eight of her points when Southeast (11-3) already had the game in hand.
Thanks to their sophomore class, which also included point guard Janelle Gould, the Seminoles outscored Sickles (11-4) 16-2 in the third quarter. Southeast outrebounded the Gryphons 16-4 in the period and 38-22 for the game.
“DeAngela wins the trophy -- in each game, she was the high scorer,” Harder said. “But I couldn’t have done it without Keeta’s (Keshawna’s) rebounds or Bevin’s defense. When are you going to have three 10th-graders that each know their role and do it very, very well? There should have been three individual trophies.”
It was an impressive tournament for Southeast, which outscored its three opponents -- St. Petersburg Northeast, St. Petersburg Gibbs and Tampa Sickles -- 144-84 en route to winning a Clemons championship for the third time since 2007.
“Defense wins championships, and I thought all three games our defense was better than any team I’d seen in our tournament,” Harder said. “That says a lot for Southeast and Lady Seminole basketball.”
The Noles hope to carry the momentum for the rest of the season because they play in a district that includes Gulfport Boca Ciega and St. Petersburg Lakewood, the latter of which won the Class 4A state title last year.
“It really raises the bar for us,” Mathis said. “We had to learn to play with each other this year. We lost seven seniors (from) last year, so it was tough.”
RIVERVIEW 55, LAKEWOOD RANCH 35 -- The Mustangs fell in Gators Division consolation game.
Gabriella Diaz-Granados, the lone senior for Lakewood Ranch, finished with 17 points, and Gwen Nichols had six.
The Mustangs (8-7) went 1-2 in the tournament.