LEMON BAY - After trailing for most of the first quarter, Lemon Bay went on a second quarter spurt to pull away from Sebring, then canned several clutch free throws in the fourth period to capture the Class 5A-District 11 girls basketball championship with a 57-43 win over the Blue Streaks Friday night. Senior Hayley Smith led the Manta Rays with 16 points, while junior Kacyn Shirley added 14 as Lemon Bay sank 11 of 15 from the line in the fourth period to help stem any attempts for a Sebring comeback and claim the school's first girls district title since 2001.
"It feels really good," said Manta Rays coach Mike Young. "The girls have worked really hard and put a lot of time in the off-season for this. We fought tooth and nail with Sebring, they didn't give up, Fortunately, we made our free throws at the end of the game to put it away because they kept coming at us."
Jamiese Wiley led the Blue Streaks with 13 points and Jazmin House added 11. Sebring will play at Cape Coral in the regional quarterfinals Thursday night.
Sebring twice cut a 13-point deficit to seven in the final minutes, but could get no closer, as the Lemon Bay defense came up with 12 steals and forced the Blue Streaks into 24 turnovers.
After ending the first quarter in an 11-11 deadlock, a 3-pointer by Sarah Lutz (13 points) with 6:30 to go in the second quarter ignited an eight-point run that put the Manta Rays ahead for good.
"In the first quarter, I think we had a little case of nerves," said Smith. "In the second quarter we picked it up. Going into the half we just kept on rolling, our defense picked up, and that was important for us. We've been practicing free throws at practice and we've been talking about this for a long time. Free throws were going to make or break this game, and we came out, we made our free throws and we got the W."
Lemon Bay made 15 of 22 foul shots overall, while Sebring could sink just 7 of 20.
Young said Lemon Bay's full-court press was the key to the decisive second quarter.
"We wanted to pressure their guards a little bit and try to turn them over and get some easy baskets," said Young. "We got some separation, but we knew they weren't going to go away. Fortunately, we had a nice enough cushion to hold on there at the end."
Lemon Bay (17-8) shot 37 percent for the game (15 of 40) and was 4 for 11 from 3-point range, while Sebring (17-5) shot 43 percent from the floor (17 of 43), but made only 2 of 9 3-point shots.
The Blue Streaks outrebounded the Mantas, 31-26. Kayla Reid was the top Lemon Bay rebounder with 9, while Smith hauled in 7, and Shirley chipped in with 6 steals.
Smith said the district title was a goal the squad's six seniors set during their freshman year.
"I remember my freshman year thinking about it," said Smith. "I've always seen the banners, even when I was younger. In elementary school, I was water girl for the high school team, so from then on, I knew I wanted a district championship. I knew we could do it this year. This was a common goal for all of us and we accomplished it."