Girls basketball: Lakewood 59, Clearwater 48
CLEARWATER – When it comes to playing teams in Pinellas County, Lakewood coach Necole Tunsil isn’t very impressed. She looks at the games as a necessary evil. They are on the schedule, but she doesn’t feel the games do much to get her team ready for the postseason.
Tuesday’s game at Clearwater promised to be different. The Tornadoes are talented and only had one loss in the first half of the season. But Lakewood jumped on Clearwater early, survived a shaky third quarter, and won 59-48. Toi Smith led the Spartans with 15 points. Zariyah Daniels chipped in with 14.
“We don’t have enough games like this, and even in this game we were up (17) at half,’’ Tunsil said. “It could have gotten out of hand, but we were just satisfied with the lead. We could’ve increased it to 30 or 40 points, easily. But hats off to them in the second half. They came back and showed some heart. But we weren’t rattled because we always knew that we were going to win the game.’’
The Spartans (10-3) led from the beginning and held a 15-10 lead after the first quarter. The second quarter proved to be the difference. Lakewood outscored Clearwater 16-4 in the quarter and led at halftime 31-14. In the quarter, the Spartans went on a 12-0 run that included a basket from Samantha Douglas, two straight jumpers from Smith and two more short shots by Diana Rosenthal.
Clearwater (11-2) put on the pressure to start the second half. Carrie Lee hit a layup, then Olivia Jones followed with two straight layups to cut the lead to 33-20. By the end of the third, Lakewood’s lead was down to 41-34 and a comeback looked possible.
The lead shrunk to five points when Jones hit a layup to start the fourth quarter. But that is as close as the Tornadoes would get. For most of the quarter, Clearwater was forced to foul and Lakewood hit key foul shots to keep Clearwater from coming back.
“We got a little shell-shocked and started standing around,’’ Clearwater coach Paul Lang said of the second quarter. “We stopped being aggressive and didn’t attack them like they attacked us. We were aggressive in the third quarter and kind of relaxed and played like we have all year. This was a great experience for us.’’
Tunsil had a scouting report on Clearwater and she said for the most part it worked.
“We knew that ball handling was their weakness,’’ Tunsil said. “We had to put some pressure on them defensively. We knew they were good below the (three point) line, but our goal was to not let them get it past the line. We stuck to the game plan and put a whole lot of pressure on them in the first half. (Guard) Jalynn Pressley was phenomenal.’’
Lakewood starts a stretch run of games against teams mostly with losing records. The final game on Jan. 23 against Winter Haven appears to be the only challenge. Because of that, Tunsil said she may scrimmage her team against boys or find other ways to challenge them.
“Being in Pinellas County doesn’t help us,’’ Tunsil said. “It really hurts us. We don’t get that test every night that some other schools do in other counties. We’re so locked into our conference schedule that it’s really not helping us. What we find is that we come up against tougher teams and it’s difficult for us. It’s doable, but it’s difficult. We have to do some things strategically in practice to help us get better, tougher.’’