LAKELAND — When Land O’ Lakes High coach Phyllis Crain took out her starters with 1 minute, 27 seconds remaining in Friday’s Class 5A state semifinal, it marked the end of the Gators’ best girls basketball team of all time.
Bradenton Southeast forced Land O’ Lakes into 26 turnovers in advancing to the state championship game with a 49-24 victory at the Lakeland Center.
“Southeast is a very good team and we knew that going in,” said Crain, whose team advanced to the state semifinals for the first time in school history. “They just man-to-man pressured us the whole way. That was the difference in the game was their defensive pressure. That’s been our weakness is our turnovers.”
Turnovers and transition points became the common theme for Land O’ Lakes (23-5), which had 14 turnovers in the first half and shot 1-for-6 from the field in the opening quarter. After taking a 2-1 lead, Land O’ Lakes trailed the rest of the way and the deficit turned into double digits by the end of the first period.
Bradenton Southeast (30-1), which last won a state championship back in 1990, was relentless in its pressure in a 26-12 halftime advantage.
“I know other team’s defenses doesn’t compare, but we also didn’t come to play the game we wanted to today,” Land O’ Lakes guard Nikki Kraning said. “They’re a good team, I’m not going to lie, but we could’ve done a lot better. We knew this was going to be the hardest team we’ve played.”
The second half featured many of the same problems Land O’ Lakes faced in the first half and Southeast feasted off the myriad of turnovers committed. Seminoles center Keshawna Robinson had the job of checking Taylor McDonald (12 points, five rebounds) and she did that and then some, scoring 20 points and grabbing seven rebounds. Janelle Gould and DeAngela Mathis paced Southeast with 13 and 10 points, respectively.
“It’s hard to end the season like this for me and Pamela (Andrade),” McDonald said. “I’m just glad it’s here instead of three or four weeks ago at districts when we were supposed to lose our second game. No other basketball team in our school history has made it this far, so it’s really an honor.”