LAKE PLACID - No one in Bill Ross Memorial Gymnasium would've blamed Mulberry for being late to Friday night's game. After all, what team wants to be early to its own execution?
And Lake Placid spared no pity to its tardy opponents, as the Green Dragons completed the Senior Night sweep via a boys and girls basketball doubleheader, handily beating Class 4A-District 9 rival Mulberry in both games at home.
The girls opened the evening with a resounding 50-34 win to improve to 12-4 overall and 2-2 in district play, while the hapless Panthers dropped to 1-11 and 0-4.
In the nightcap, the boys ran away with their game, obliterating Mulberry 62-36. The victory gave Lake Placid (2-13, 1-4) its second victory on the season as well as its first district win. Mulberry dropped to 3-11 overall and 1-4 in district play.
"You can't leave any one of us alone," said Dragons girls coach Jackie Coyne. "I tell my team, if we can have five players score, we're very dangerous."
Lake Placid opened the game on a 5-0 run, but the Panthers battled back on the strength of their inside play from Raven Kelley to close the gap to 6-4. A big three near the end of the quarter made it 7-4 in Mulberry's favor, and the Panthers added a layup to make it 9-7 at the buzzer.
That's when Coyne looked to her bench.
Jenny Herstein and Annie Weber-Callahan came into the game, sparking a Dragons run to put Lake Placid up 16-15 midway through the second period. The Dragons started to press on defense as well, forcing a flurry of Panthers turnovers in the backcourt which Lake Placid converted into easy layups. Qui Williams also came alive, using a bevy of dribbling moves to drive to the basket where she either scored or drew a foul.
Up 25-22 at the break, the Dragons continued to swarm Panthers ball-handlers with their smothering press in the third quarter. The defensive strategy had the desired effect on Mulberry's offense that Coyne hoped it would.
"We we're really only worried about Timaya Williams," Coyne said. "She's their best player, and she and the team shoot a lot of threes. But we forced them into a bunch of bad shots and that's what we wanted."
In the fourth quarter, Lake Plaid stretched its lead to 42-27, as Callahan and Shaquavia Gayle ran the backdoor play to perfection.
Mulberry added a deep three in the waning minutes to make the final score look more respectable, but the vaunted Lake Placid press had already done its damage. Qui led all scorers with 22 points. Gayle added 13 and Herstein netted seven. Kelley was Mulberry's high-scorer with 14 points.
The Dragon boys also opened their game on a 5-0 run. And just like in the girls match up, Mulberry would claw its way back into the game to cut Lake Placid's lead to 13-11 by the end of the first quarter.
But the Dragons were playing their first game of the season with a completely healthy roster, and they wouldn't be denied.
Nick Tuason, Anfernee Munnings, and Scott Colley had all misted a litany of games due to various injuries. But in the second quarter, the Munnings came alive from long range, burying two 3-pointers to put the Panthers on their heels. Back-to-back layups from Justin Mason and Jose Rinald followed, and the Dragons extended their lead to 32-20 at halftime.
"It's a world of difference having all of our guys back," said Lake Placid boys coach Dan Coomes. "But more than anything, we played really well as a team. No one was trying to do it all by themselves; we were being patient on offense and we weren't forcing any shots."
"If we can get everyone to play together, and everyone does what they're supposed to do, we'll have more nights like this."
And Coomes had special praise for senior Marquavein Copeland.
"In all of this - with all of these guys being hurt - he's been the guy who just kept working," Coomes said. "I mean he is a workaholic. He's our glue. When he walks on the floor, he gives you everything he's got. That's just the way he plays."
In the fourth quarter, with the game in hand, it was the Munnings and Colley show. Munnings splashed a 3-pointer and dished back-to-back passes to Colley for easy baskets. The tandem spurred a 9-2 run that put the Dragons up 58-33 and the game out of reach.
Munnings finished with a game-high 13 points. Copeland followed him with eight, while Tuason added seven and Colley contributed six.
Teconsa McDonald paced Mulberry with 10.
Lake Placid's Senior Night also coincided with the second annual Hoops for a Cause Pink Out. Started by former student-athlete Alex Coyne, the event serves as a fundraiser for worthy causes around Highlands County.
The event is co-sponsored by the school's AVID class, which Coyne teaches, and the program aims to prepare students for college. This year, all proceeds from the event went to the Humane Society of Highlands County.
"My AVID kids did a great job with it," Coyne said. "We're really fortunate to have our sponsors be so receptive to this. And Senior Night was a great game to have it."
The Dragon boys will be back on the hardwood Tuesday night for a game against Class 5A DeSoto. The girls, meanwhile, will have a few days off before they suit up for a home game against Clewiston on Jan. 21. Both games will tip-off at 6 p.m. for the junior varsity and 7:30 for the varsity.