LAND O’LAKES — The Gators haven’t made the playoffs in three years, and they’ve been to only one region final.
Now they’ve matched that record.
Land O’Lakes defeated Nature Coast 46-40 in Tuesday’s Class 5A region semifinal which they led from the start.
“We had momentum,” Land O’Lakes coach Phyllis Crain said. “We played a great defensive game.”
Nature Coast has averaged 60 points per game this season, but Land O’Lakes was able to set the tempo this time.
Crain credited the Gators’ defense and Taylor McDonald. The senior was the top scorer of the night, racking up 20 points with nine field goals.
“She stepped up for me,” Crain said. “She started making shots she hasn’t made all year.”
Land O’Lakes took an early lead and finished the first quarter just two points ahead.
The Sharks’ best chance to catch up came a few minutes into the second. Mirandas Jones hit a 3 to pull within 12-11.
The Gators wasted no time in widening that gap in the third. They ended the half five points ahead. But when the third-period buzzer sounded, they had a 10-point lead.
NCT wasn’t ready to give up. The Sharks scored four points within the first few minutes of the fourth, and they racked up 13 more before the game finished. The attack came too late to boost them to the win.
Fatima Jones led NCT’s scoring drive with 13 points. She hit each of her six free throws. Rita Jarque added another 10 points.
Makala Canada and Jhade Hayes followed McDonald in scoring, with nine points apiece.
The Gators faces Citrus in the next round. If they advance to state, it will be the first time in school history.
“We haven’t been here since I got here three years ago,” Crain said. “I’m really proud of my team.”