LAND O'LAKES — Once its players shook off an early case of the jitters, Academy at the Lakes took command of Thursday's Class A, Region 3 quarterfinal. The outcome was a 40-34 defeat of Sarasota Christian for the team's first playoff victory.
"I think early on the girls had the jitters; lots of fans, lots of hoopla," Wildcats coach Karim Nohra said. "(At halftime) I said, 'We've got to calm down.' We came back and put the pressure on."
That they did, outscoring the Blazers 23-14 after the break thanks, in part, to a press that forced turnovers. When Sarasota Christian fought back, Academy at the Lakes players went to the line and converted free throws.
The Wildcats converted 15 of 20 from the stripe compared with 2 of 2 for the Blazers.
"That's what won the game," Nohra said. "I told them, 'Make your layups and make your free throws, and we'll win the game.' "
The team's first-round playoff win is the second of any team in school history. Last spring, Academy at the Lakes won a region quarterfinal in softball.
The basketball team, however, has the only district title at the school in a turnaround season. The Wildcats did not win a game in girls basketball last season.
"This is an exhilarating feeling because (none of his players have) ever experienced this in their lives," Nohra said.
Andrea Mauger led the Wildcats with 15 points. She had five of her team's 10 points in the third quarter when Academy at the Lakes outscored Sarasota Christian 10-5 and built a lead it would not relinquish.
The lead changed hands five times with Yvanessa Vincent scoring the go-ahead points on a layup off a steal by MarJorie Rivera. That gave the Wildcats a 27-25 lead and Sarasota Christian never got closer the rest of the way.
Drew Lantz paced the Blazers' offense with a game-high 16 points.