BROOKSVILLE — The Class 5A, District 7 championship game will include Central on Thursday night, despite the fact that the Bears will be without one of the staples in their starting lineup for the past four seasons.
Central knocked off Springstead 57-26 in a blowout Tuesday, the team's second game after finding out point guard McKenzie Burns was done for the season with a torn ACL in her right knee.
The Bears (18-5) had beaten the Eagles (8-16) twice during the regular season handily, but after a loss at Lecanto over the weekend, the top seed seemed shaken heading into the district tournament. Central coach Penny Gressick huddled the troops and regrouped.
The leader of that resurgence was senior Raqurra Ishmar. The power forward was ultra-aggressive as the team went up 16-0 right from tipoff. With the Bears leading 43-8 at halftime, Ishmar already had a stat line of 26 points, 16 rebounds, three blocks and five steals.
"I just preached to them that if we can take it to them early, we'd be all right," Gressick said. "I knew they'd be able to handle it mentally."
Ishmar finished with 30 points and 21 rebounds to go with four blocks and five steals, more than making up for the loss of Burns for the time being. The inspired play helped bring along the insertion of sophomore Rhy Venturella into the lineup.
"I've had McKenzie for four years now and helped mold her into the player I've wanted her to be," Gressick said. "It's obviously a big loss, but the biggest factor for us going forward is going to be controlling the game and taking care of the ball."
Central has never won a district title, and Gressick is looking forward to the program's chances at home against West Port.
"As long as I've been here, I've looked around this gym and seen the banners," she said. "There are no girls basketball ones. We want to be the team to change that."