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LAKELAND — From the moment she stepped on the Lakeland Center court Thursday night for her final high school game, Tampa Catholic senior guard Meghan Keough knew time was ticking away.
Earlier in the day — before the Crusaders’ Class 3A state title game against North Broward Prep — Keough talked with her mother, Lisa, about ending her high school career with a second straight state title.
“You never really know what to expect,” Keough said. “I told her, ‘No matter whether my shots are falling or whether we’re getting the calls, they can’t question your heart. You just lay it out there. You have 32 minutes to play.’ That’s how I went into the game.”
And after she willed the Crusaders to a 48-37 win over the Eagles, making Tampa Catholic the first Hillsborough County team to win back-to-back state crowns, there was no questioning Meghan Keough’s heart.
“The heart of a lion,” North Broward Prep coach Gregory Walker said. “She showed she is a player tonight. She decided to put them on her back and she did it.”
On the night when her teammates needed her the most, Keough, a UCF recruit, gave them a memorable performance, scoring a game-high 30 on 11-for-24 shooting. The rest of the Crusaders shot a frigid 4 of 27 from the field.
“She’s had other games just like this, but today it seemed like she wanted it even more,” Crusaders junior guard Micah Kroll said. “We all did, but when our shots weren’t falling someone had to step up, and that’s what Meghan did.”
After falling behind 15-6 after one period, Keough paced TC with eight points on a 10-1 second-period run to give the Crusaders (28-4) a 19-18 halftime lead.
“For a moment there I thought she was a tad bit fatigued in the first half,” Walker said. “But she didn’t show it at all.”
Keough wasn’t done, scoring 14 of Tampa Catholic’s next 16 points as the Crusaders built a 27-22 lead. The Eagles (19-10) inched back, but Keough’s 3-pointer from the left corner with 7:00 left in the game gave Tampa Catholic a 33-27 lead that provided enough cushion down the stretch.
“Meghan was outstanding,” Tampa Catholic coach Nancy Kroll said. “She was the most valuable player for us tonight, as she has been many nights. Great things happen when the ball is in her hands.”
The Crusaders, a team that lost its top two scores — 1,000-point scorers Colette Eule and Sarah Brennan — to graduation, earned their first state crown last year with a nail-biting one-point win over Bishop Moore.
But this year, Keough’s performance provided more time for celebration. The Crusaders finished the season on a 25-game winning streak.
In the final seconds, she walked off the court to a standing ovation and the chants of “MVP” from the TC crowd.
As she wanted to, she left it all on the court.
“People said, ‘They’ll be good, but they won’t do it again,’ ” Keough said. “That was a big motivation for us. We’ve been here before. We know how it felt. I never thought it would feel this good.”