LAKELAND — Seffner Christian didn’t know what to expect from its first trip to the state girls basketball tournament in Lakeland.
Before the season began, coach Greg Fawbush confided to others that he thought his team — made up entirely of freshmen and sophomores — was still a year from making a run to state.
Two days before leading his team into the Lakeland Center to play Lake Worth Trinity Christian, which is making its third state trip in four years, in the Class A state semifinals, a sleepless Fawbush prayed for help.
“I remember waking up Monday morning at 3 a.m. and just asking God, ‘God, just don’t let me get beat by 40, not our first time,’ ” he said.
Even on the short bus ride along Interstate 4 Wednesday morning, Fawbush worried about his team’s readiness.
But after the Crusaders’ state tournament debut, which ended with a 72-55 loss to the Warriors, there was little doubt the Crusaders belonged — and were determined to return.
“I just think it makes me want it more now,” sophomore Tesha Hanson said. “Next year I’m going to be hungry for it even more. I just want to come here and win it.”
The Crusaders (22-8) hung with Trinity Christian (23-4) throughout the first half, but eventually the Warriors’ athleticism caught up with Seffner, and they broke open a 37-27 game with a 15-4 run to end the quarter.
“I knew that we were going to be outmatched out there athletically from top to bottom but I was just proud of all the girls stuck in there and played hard,” Fawbush said. “We never quit.”
Hanson, Hillsborough County’s leading scorer with 24.7 points a game, scored a game-high 29 points, including 14 in a fourth quarter in which the Crusaders outscored Trinity 24-20. Freshman Sabrina Whiting scored nine of her 20 in the final quarter.
The young Crusaders surprised the Warriors — Trinity senior Crystal Connors said she thought Hanson was a senior — and Trinity coach Luke McCray said he thinks he might see this team again.
“If they stay together, I think so, if they keep working on their game and playing as one, because they play good as a group,” McCray said. “If (Hanson) keeps elevating their game, she’s something special, and (Whiting), too.”
And Fawbush was already planning a return trip.
“We didn’t know what we didn’t know,” he said. “So maybe when we make state next year we might be nervous a little more.”