NAPLES — St. Petersburg is just about two hours north of Naples. But Lakewood wasn't taking any chances.
The Spartans arrived in Naples on Friday for their Class 4A region final at Barron Collier. They got some rest by staying at a hotel, and, as they did in their 61-48 victory on Saturday night in a hostile gym, by staying together.
When Barron made a 5-0 run to begin the second half, cutting into the Spartans' 11-point halftime lead, the home crowd came to its feet.
A timeout to talk things over and experienced floor leadership by Lakewood's senior backcourt of Taye'lor Trotter and Kayla Roberts helped settle the crowd.
The Spartans responded by reeling off seven straight points to help send them to their first state final four in coach Necole Tunsil's seven years at the helm.
"We felt from Day 1 we had the tools to get to this point," said Tunsil, who as a player helped lead Lakewood to its last state title in 1989. "It's a blessing for us to have the opportunity to go to states."
The Spartans (26-4) held Barron (24-7) to just five points in the opening quarter and dominated the offensive boards 15-4.
But even with the high level of play Lakewood demonstrated and the double-digit lead it held throughout most of the second half, the outcome was in question.
Barron made numerous runs late, causing seven Spartan turnovers in the fourth quarter. And with each Barron run, the gym's noise level shot up.
"We just know when the crowd is against us, we have to talk to each other," said Trotter, who led all scorers with 21 points. "We just know we have to stay together."
Backing up Trotter were junior Shineice Beamon and sophomore Tianah Alvarado with 12 points each.
"This is the easiest team to coach," Tunsil said. "They always come prepared. I don't have to motivate them in practice."
Tunsil said Lakewood will be sticking with its winning game plan for Friday's state semifinal.
"We'll be there Thursday," she said.