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ST. PETERSBURG — Boca Ciega may be the team of the future, but Lakewood proved Wednesday night that it is the team of the present.
Using a stifling fullcourt press, the senior-laden Spartans defeated the young Pirates 51-39. Lakewood (11-1) caused 23 Boca Ciega turnovers in the first Class 5A-12 between the schools this season.
“You can’t beat Lakewood with 23 turnovers,” Pirates coach Michael Hall said.
Boca Ciega (9-3) starts three sophomores and a freshman. One upperclassman, Destiny Brown, sprained her left ankle Tuesday night against Pinellas Park and will miss at least two weeks.
“Could be a bad break, could be a good break,” Hall said. “We had some people play tonight that normally wouldn’t have. It will make our bench deeper.”
Meanwhile, Lakewood starts three experienced seniors and several underclassmen who have years of playing time. In the first four minutes, it was hard to tell which team was the underdog. The Pirates scored the first six points on Zoi Thompson baskets.
But Lakewood finally got going thanks to 3-pointers by seniors Tianah Alvarado and Alexis Ungro. The Spartans scored 14 straight points and never fell behind. They did, however, lose sophomore guard Deja Swinton during that stretch when she was hit in the mouth and cut her lip. She did not return.
Lakewood led 15-10 after the first quarter and pushed the lead to 26-12 midway through the second. Freshman forward Siyana Allen hit a layup, Alvarado hit a 3-pointer and Ungro had a layup during the 11-2 run.
The Pirates closed the gap to 30-23 at halftime. They stayed in the game through the third quarter, trailing 41-34. But Lakewood allowed only five fourth-quarter points and hit six of eight free throws down the stretch.
“I think our senior leadership took over,” Lakewood coach Necole Tunsil said. “Kasey Drayton played some awesome defense, Tianah Alvarado was Tianah Alvarado, and Alexis Ungro did what she normally does. They kept us poised through the game.”
Alvarado led all scorers with 23 points. Ungro added eight and Allen had seven. Freshman Niaya White led Boca Ciega with 13 while Thompson had 12 points.
“I think we played well against them tonight,” Hall said. “I couldn’t say that last year. We’re going in the right direction. I’m excited right now. I’m very proud of our kids.
“What really hurt us was in the fourth quarter we couldn’t get into any sets. That’s where (Lakewood’s) senior leadership took over. It was hard for us to get baskets. We made mistakes and they capitalized on those mistakes.”
For Alvarado, it was not only good to play a competitive game against a neighborhood rival, it was good just to be back on the court. She missed almost all of her junior year with a knee injury.
“I did miss it a lot,” Alvarado said. “I feel like I have to make a statement because I was out for so long. I need to make a name for myself and lead the team and do what’s necessary to get back to states.”