LAKELAND — Boca Ciega coach Will White did his best to comfort his heartbroken squad in the locker room following the Pirates’ 53-44 loss to Fort Lauderdale Dillard on Thursday night in the Class 5A girls basketball final.
He told them how proud he was.
He reminded them that because of their efforts Boca Ciega had become one of the state’s “elite” programs.
He even pointed to the future, which appears to be very bright.
But for the group of girls that had won 23 straight games before Thursday’s devastating defeat, White’s words simply didn’t help.
The sting was still too fresh.
“Everybody had their heads lowered,” junior guard Tamara Taylor said.
There were many factors that led to Boca Ciega’s defeat, but in the end the biggest might have been this: The Pirates had no answer for Dillard senior guard Dawnn Maye, who will play for Georgia Tech next season.
The 5-foot-7 star was 9-of-17 from the field and 6-of-11 at the line to total 25 points. She scored most of her baskets inside, many on plays in which she penetrated right through the heart of the Boca Ciega defense.
Maye also had six rebounds, six steals and three assists.
“It was all about who wanted it more,” Maye said.
Boca Ciega (30-2) wasn’t exactly overwhelmed by the Panthers (26-4). The Pirates not only opened the game with a 9-0 run, but were in the hunt most of the way. In the end, poor ball-handling and subpar shooting were too much to overcome.
Boca Ciega committed 22 turnovers, including nine in the third quarter when Dillard outscored the Pirates 16-9 and built an eight-point lead.
“Whew,” Taylor said after the game. “I didn’t know we had that many.”
From the field, Boca Ciega was 17-of-53.
Taylor was the Pirates’ best performer Thursday, shooting 8-of-19 and finishing with 21 points, nine rebounds and two steals. Senior guard Latavia Dempsey added 10 points.
Combined, Taylor and Dempsey had 20 of Boca Ciega’s 25 first-half points as the Pirates trailed by one at the break. The downside was that few others had stepped up, something everyone in the arena, including Dillard noticed.
“Once we realized (Taylor and Dempsey) were their only two players, we knew we had to lock them down and make them pass,” Maye said.
Boca Ciega was playing in the championship game for the first time since 1996, when the Pirates won the second of back-to-back titles — the only two in the program’s storied history. Boca Ciega also reached the final four in 2008 and ’09, but each time lost in the semifinals.
The title is Dillard’s fifth, all under longtime coach Marcia Pinder.
With four of five starters returning next season, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Boca Ciega back in Lakeland. But as the Pirates left the arena, next year was not on their minds.
“They’re not feeling great right now,” White said. “But they played hard. I’m proud of them.”