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BROOKSVILLE — After a first-round bye in the Hernando Holiday Classic, the Leopards had trouble working out the kinks in Wednesday’s semifinal against Lake Wales.
The Highlanders took advantage with physical play that led to a thrilling 38-36 victory and a spot in tonight’s championship game.
Hernando (8-3) started slowly but led throughout the contest as it trapped Lake Wales (5-7) and forced multiple turnovers. The frantic pace wasn’t pretty to watch, but it gave the Leopards 27 steals to 17 for the opponents. The lead at halftime was a low-scoring 18-12.
However, Lake Wales was never deterred. Behind the play of their frontcourt, the Highlanders stayed in the game with a stout rebounding effort. After beating Nature Coast 35-31 to advance, they looked a little fresher on the glass, gathering 41 rebounds to Hernando’s 25.
The Leopards were ahead in the fourth quarter with less than a minute remaining thanks to a layup from Remi Manuel (team-high 12 points). With only 11 seconds left, Lake Wales power forward Carnesha Thompson hit a jumper from the free-throw line to put the Highlanders up 37-36.
Thompson was the catalyst all night, scoring 16 and grabbing 18 rebounds to go with five steals.
Lake Wales will face Ravenwood (Tenn.) in the championship after the Raptors defeated McKeel Academy 70-35 in the other semifinal.
In other action, Central bounced back from its first-round loss to Ravenwood by beating South Lake 38-31 in the early consolation game. Raqurra Ishmar (20 points, 11 rebounds) and McKenzie Burns (24 points, eight assists) led the way for the Bears.