SEBRING - Don't let the final score fool you. A Sebring victory was never really in doubt.
Behind a stellar shooting night from Rondaja Williams, the Blue Streaks outlasted DeSoto by a score of 44-33 for a critical Class 5A-District 11 win at Blue Streaks gym Friday night.
The win improved Sebring to 13-3 overall on the season, and 3-1 in district play. With the loss, DeSoto fell to 12-5 and 2-5.
"This win means a lot," said Sebring coach Mike Lee. "It puts us in control of our destiny, so to speak. Now we just need to take care of Lemon Bay and we'll be tied for first."
The Streaks burst out of the gate on a 6-0 run, paced by a handful of jumpers from Williams. The Bulldogs managed to get back in the game for a brief moment but a time out from Lee refocused his squad and his girls responded by winning the quarter 16-10.
In the second period, Sebring's defense intensified, holding DeSoto to just four points on two made baskets.
Jamiese Wiley and Williams were relentless in the paint, crashing the boards with reckless abandon to propel the Streaks to a commanding 30-14 lead at the break.
Williams led Sebring scorers with 15 points. Wiley added 13 and Christacia Dawkins added 10.
The trio were unstoppable in the paint, combining to grab 19 rebounds. Wiley snagged eight, four on each end of the court, while Williams pulled down six and Dawkins had five.
Thanks to its stingy perimeter defense, the Streaks limited DeSoto to just one made 3-pointer. The Bulldogs heavily utilize the deep ball in their offense, and Lee was impressed with his girls performance in shutting it down.
"Our philosophy was to have a hand in every shot," Lee said. "We wanted to make them beat us outside."
The Streaks came somewhat unraveled in the third period, as the Bulldogs cut a 37-19 lead down to just 13 points.
DeSoto took advantage of a lax Sebring defense, as the Bulldogs outscored the Streaks 12-9. Foul trouble forced Lee to move players into positions they weren't quite used to playing, and DeSoto's Tishonna Riley came alive on the boards, snagging loose balls at will and effortlessly putting back easy layups.
"We had some girls get in foul trouble," Lee said. "So we had to move some bodies around to different places and the girls had to guard different positions. But give them credit. Jamiese doesn't play in the middle all too often, and she and the rest of the girls did a great job."
Lee praised his team's experience for being able to handle a fluctuating defense.
"We've had a lot of girls with three years of varsity experience," he said. "So we have a good team that should be able to handle it, and they do a good job with it."
In the fourth quarter, Sebring used its stall offense to great effect in running down the clock, but the Streaks struggled to score out of their sets.
On a handful of Sebring possessions, DeSoto took advantage of some lax communication, converting turnovers into points and drawing ire from Lee.
He called three time outs in the final quarter.
Lee puts much of the blame for that miscommunication on himself, though.
"That's all on me," he said. "We haven't had a lot of time practicing that, and DeSoto is a very athletic team. We haven't figured out yet how to beat that type of offense with back-door cuts."
DeSoto's Riley led all scorers with 18 points. Ladeja Dennis netted nine and Victavia Blandin added four.
As Sebring gets further into district play, Lee knows it will be important to work on the stall offense. It's vital to the Streaks' success.
One thing Lee's not worried about, though, is his team chemistry.
"They're a great group of girls," he said. "We have real good chemistry. There's a few girls who don't get in very much, and you wouldn't be able to tell. We all have a lot of respect for each other."
"They're good to each other on the court, and they're good to each other off it."
Sebring's next game is a nondistrict match up against Lake Region on Tuesday. Tip off is scheduled for 7:30 at Blue Streaks Gym.
Sebring resumes its district schedule on Jan. 10 when it hosts Lemon Bay in a rematch that could decide the district championship. The Manta Rays defeated the Streaks earlier this season in Lemon Bay by a score of 54-39.