TAMPA — Earlier in the season, Jefferson coach Tom Mosca worried about his team's sputtering starts, wondering if they might catch up with his team come postseason.
But those days seem like so long ago now. His Dragons are wasting little time putting away opponents. They've played by the same script for three weeks now, leaving opponents in the dust, the latest chapter Jefferson's 66-46 Class 4A region quarterfinal win over Lakewood.
Jefferson ran out to an 18-4 first-quarter lead Tuesday, holding Lakewood scoreless through a span of 7:20. The Spartans made just 2-of-12 shots from the field in the opening quarter and committed four turnovers.
"They're focused on what we do early. We're where we need to be," Mosca said.
"We're a much more mature team this year. I've looked at film from last year, we were good last year, but we're a better basketball team this year."
The Dragons (27-3) are one win from their first final four in school history.
"We want to make it to Lakeland," Jefferson senior guard Jade Givens said, referring to the site of the state tournament. "That's our goal, and we have one more game to get there. We want to get Coach to the big dance. And it's my senior year, so I want to get there and I'm pretty sure the other girls do, too."
Junior forward Shayla Wilson led the Dragons with 17 points and 12 rebounds, and Givens was just one assist shy of her own double double with 13 points and nine assists.
"It was our defense," Givens said. "We were playing our game and it took them out of their game. Our intensity was high the whole game and we stuck to the game plan."
With leading scorer Laurie' Beaty on the bench with foul trouble for most of the first half, the Dragons extended the lead to 20 with 5:40 left in the second on Benee Glanton's 3-pointer.
Lakewood (21-6) closed the gap to 12 on Tianah Alvarado's 3-pointer with 2:40 left in the game, but Beaty (8 points) hit the second of back-to-back 3-pointers to end the threat.
"I'm not really sure all of the players on the floor understood the magnitude of the game," Lakewood coach Necole Tunsil said. "When you have inexperienced players like that and you're going against Jefferson, which has been to regional finals, it kind of took my babies by surprise."
Eduardo A. Encina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org