LUTZ — Before the start of the season, Steinbrenner coach JR Allen preached to his team about the importance of finding a leader when adversity struck.
The Warriors (6-0, 1-0 7A-8) were coming off a 21-win season, but after graduating seven seniors — including 1,000-point scorer Bailey Hooker — the fifth-year coach needed someone to fill the void left behind by their departures.
On Friday night, that moment of hardship arose. But his words rang true to one player — Rachel Briere.
Despite being forced to the bench with three fouls early, the junior forward scored a team-high 19 points to give the Warriors the push they needed to get past rival Wiregrass Ranch 32-26.
“If this was Rachel Briere’s freshman year and she had what happened tonight happen, she probably doesn’t show up and we probably lose that game,” Allen said. “I’m really proud of her with the way she kept her composure.”
Neither team could find its groove from the floor, thanks to both defenses shutting down the inside lanes and forcing outside shots.
Still, even with the Bulls’ (6-1, 0-1) best effort to keep her shielded, the 6-foot Briere managed to work free and find the basket to give her team a close lead throughout the first half.
“It’s all training throughout the summer,” Briere said of her ability to evade defenders. “Just working on foot speed, all of those ladder drills and everything just worked to help my speed.”
In the third quarter, Wiregrass took the lead 15-13 right out of the half. But Briere wasn’t about to let the game slip away. After Courtney Hall (four points) tied it with a free throw, Briere received a pass beyond the arc and nailed a 3-pointer.
From that point Steinbrenner never trailed, turning to its defense to finish the job, which held Wiregrass’ leading-scorer, Amanda Melosky, to a season-low six points.
“Wiregrass plays tough, man,” Allen said. “Somehow, someway, we just managed to find a way to hang in there and get it done.”
Bulls coach John Gant didn’t mince words when describing his team’s performance.
“We stunk,” he said. “We absolutely stunk. Take nothing away from (Steinbrenner), they’re a good team. But we did not play well tonight at all.”