BROOKSVILLE — Coming into the Hernando Holiday Classic, it looked as if at least one of the North Suncoast teams was in prime position to compete for the title.
As it turned out, none of those teams finished in the top three, let alone reached the championship game.
Thursday night, Hernando sealed its fate with a 40-24 loss to McKeel Academy as the Leopards fell to 0-2 in the inaugural running of the tournament.
The contest started slowly with the score at the end of the first quarter knotted at 6, but from there the Wildcats (11-5) took a stronghold. The inside presence of forward Heather Smith (12 points, 11 rebounds) was too much for the Hernando defense.
Led by Jason Montgomery, coach at Nature Coast from 2003-07, McKeel continued to widen the gap in the second half with ball movement and an ability to slow the pace.
The Leopards (8-4), who had a first-round bye in the tournament, fell to a buzzer-beater against Lake Wales in the semifinals. Stefanie White paced the team Thursday with 11 points.
“Defensively, I think we played great both games,” Hernando coach Kevin Bittinger said. “You could just see we never got into any kind of a rhythm offensively.
“Our season is a journey. We have to work on it and get better.”
Ravenwood, Tenn., walked away with the crown without much resistance. After blowing out its first two opponents by a combined 62 points in the first two games, the Raptors cruised to a 54-30 victory over Lake Wales (5-8) in the final.
The tournament winners were led by Erin Lauderdale (18 points), who knocked down two 3-pointers in the win. The Raptors (11-3) were able to fend off another solid effort from Highlanders forward Carnesha Thompson (12 points, 11 rebounds).
In the early consolation game, Central (12-4) took home fifth place with a 56-44 win over Nature Coast.