AVON PARK - The Lake Placid Green Dragons girls basketball team advanced to the Class 4A-District 9 championship game after defeating the Avon Park Red Devils 55-42 on Tuesday night at Red Devils Gym.
For the Red Devils, the game summed up their roller coast season. The Devils always seemed to have a lead in most games before ultimately losing it. Avon Park often fought back in contests to tie games, only to fade away down the stretch - and on Tuesday night, their season came to an abrupt end.
"We were down a ball handler," said Avon Park coach Paulette Daley. "So we were trying to implement plays where post players were handling the ball for us and we were sticking in there for a while. We just got out of sync after a while. When you are missing one of your key ball handlers, the chemistry is not there."
The game started out as a clash of defenses and offensive miscues which led to only nine points being scored after five and half minutes of play, as the Devils held a slight 5-4 lead. Avon Park extended its lead to 11-6 towards the end of the opening quarter, and ended the period with an 11-8 advantage.
The Devils fell into the abyss from there, as Lake Placid went on a 15-3 run to start the second quarter. The Dragons held a nine point lead, 23-14, with less than four minutes left to play in the opening half.
Just when it seemed that the Dragons were poised to extinguish the Devils, Avon Park came charging back thanks to a 7-0 run to cut Lake Placid's lead to two points at the intermission, 23-21.
"We changed nothing at halftime," said Lake Placid coach Jackie Coye. "I told them to stick with the game plan and start attacking the rim instead of falling away and playing timid. I think they played timid the first half."
Jenny Herstein made the first bucket of the second half to briefly put Lake Placid up by four, 25-21, but Avon Park responded with baskets by Kayla Sharpe and Kennedea Jones to tie the game at 25.
Lake Placid increased its defensive pressure, forcing Avon Park into several turnovers while going on a 13-3 run during the final minutes of the third quarter to take a 10-point lead, 38-28, into the final stanza.
The Dragons increased their lead to 14 early in the fourth quarter, leading 46-32 with five minutes left in the game. Again, Lake Placid was in position to snuff out what little fire the Red Devils had left.
But with four and a half minutes left in the game, and Lake Placid holding a 48-34 lead, a spark rose out of the ashes to bring life to the Red Devils. They scored eight unanswered points to slice the Green Dragon lead to a mere six points, 48-42, with 2:50 left on the clock.
Three seconds later, the game turned another 180 degrees when Avon Park's Toryana Jones fouled out of the game. The loss of Jones, who scored a game high of 20 points, was devastating to the Red Devils' offense, as it was held scoreless the remainder of the game.
Lake Placid took advantage of Jones' absence, ripping off a 7-0 run in the game's for the 13-point win.
"It was a good and competitive game," Daley said. "It could have gone either way."
Coyne voice a similar opinion.
"It was a weird game in terms of foul trouble and trying to get rhythm," she said. "But Lahna Sedatol really came through as a bench player tonight. We are about seven strong with Jenny Herstein, Shaquavia Gayle and Ouiahja Williams being my go to players. She isn't, but really came through in the clutch."
Williams led Lake Placid with 13 points while Gayle netted 12. Sedatol rounded out the Dragons in double digits, contributing 10. With the win, Lake Placid will face the McKeel Wildcats on Friday at Avon Park for a chance to host a state regional quarterfinal game in Bill Ross Memorial Gym. In advancing to the district championship game, the Dragons punched their tickets to the state playoffs.
Lake Placid assistant Kayla Coyne said the Dragons will face a solid team in the Wildcats.
"They are a good three point shooting team," she said. "We cannot play man-to-man because we are too weak for that. We will have to execute a good zone defense, dominate on the board and play fast."