RUSKIN — If Saturday night’s Class 6A region final between Lehigh and his Lennard team was truly like a boxing match, as coach Danny Gaddis said, then ding, ding, ding.
It’s the Longhorns by TKO.
In front of a packed house in their own gymnasium, Lennard outworked and outplayed Lehigh in a decisive 74-63 win, sending the program to its first state semifinal.
After a slow start, Gaddis reminded his upstart veteran club to just do what it always does: throw lots of punches.
“Very simple: All we do is no different than the Mitchell game, or the other games. All we got to do is counterpunch,” he said. “Just do what we’ve been doing all year.”
The Longhorns (25-4) won their 10th straight game, and 15th in their last 16, with slick guard play from Caelen Watts, an inspired second half from Gary Hector and clutch 3-point shooting from Darren Girod.
“It’s amazing,” said Watts, who led Lennard with 18 points.
Early on, Lehigh (22-7) made it look like it might be too fast and too big for the smaller Longhorns.
“We just had to take their best punch,” Hector said.
That punch came from Bowling Green signee and Lehigh point guard Bernard Edwards Jr., who led all scorers with 27 points and was a handful early on.
But Hector came to life in the third quarter, scoring three baskets inside as Lennard turned a 35-32 halftime lead into something insurmountable.
Hector sandwiched two of his baskets around Girod’s third 3-pointer to key a 7-0 start to the third quarter, pushing Lennard ahead 42-32.
Lehigh never got close than six the rest of the way.
When Lehigh scored, Lennard answered. The Lightning pulled within 59-51 midway through the fourth quarter, but Girod hit a shot and added a free throw. When Lehigh retaliated with a long 3-pointer, Trey Jones made two free throws and Hector scored again.
Hector scored only four points and missed all four of his free throws in the first half, but scored 12 in the second half.
Girod finished with 16 as well.
“The thing is, we thought we would do this last year and the year before that,” Gaddis said. “Those were the expectations. This finally came with maturity. It was just a matter of time for us.”