LECANTO — With only three players on its bench and three freshmen in the starting lineup, Wesley Chapel found a way to hurdle Lecanto in Thursday's Class 4A region quarterfinal.
The Wildcats stumbled a few times but found a firm grip in the second half on their way to a 71-61 win over the Panthers.
Lecanto (19-6) came out trying to press, but the strategy backfired. The Wildcats (24-3) had no issue breaking the press and were able score easy layups in the first quarter.
The second quarter was a different story.
Although Wesley Chapel consistently made its way into the paint, the Panthers shot the lights out with five first-half 3-pointers to keep the game close. The tide turned on an 8-0 run by Lecanto with 1:53 left in the second quarter, giving the home team its first lead at 27-26.
Wesley Chapel coach Karim Nohra went to the locker room preaching to his team about two things: limiting the turnovers that caused the late first-half Lecanto run and getting more production from Shantel Houston.
"I looked at Shantel and told her that as our senior leader, she really needed to step up," Nohra said. "This was her time to take control."
Houston heeded Nohra's call. In the third quarter, she scored 13 of her team-high 23 as the Wildcats took a stranglehold on the game. She finished with six rebounds and five steals.
Her performance covered up for Wesley Chapel's lack of depth with four players on the roster unavailable due to various reasons.
Abbey Kaczmarek, the team's starting center, turned her ankle in the district championship game against Gulf and was on crutches on the bench. Debbie Rodriguez, Jasmine Dixon and Sara Hordges were also unavailable.
Wesley Chapel advances to a rematch with those same Buccaneers in the Class 4A region semifinals, a game that Nohra is already looking forward to.
"It doesn't matter whose floor we have to play on," Nohra said. "The girls will be ready for that game."