SEFFNER — Tatiana Manuel won the opening tap and directed the ball to Andrea Mauger, who sprinted in for an easy layup. Academy at the Lakes led Seffner Christian only four seconds into the game. It lasted for about half a minute.
Within a few minutes Saturday, Seffner Christian showed again that its most difficult challenges are going to come from outside the bay area.
Sophomore forward Peyton Walker scored 17 to lead four players in double figures, lifting the Crusaders to a 63-45 victory over Academy at the Lakes in a game that had been billed as a showdown between two of the area's top private-school powers.
"With us, you've got to pick your poison," Seffner Christian coach Greg Fawbush said. "We had some mismatches and we eventually exploited them."
Jaitesha Hanson and Ally Parrimore each scored 13, and Sara Denny added 10 for the Crusaders (18-2), who won their third straight after losing twice at the Queen of Palms Tournament in Fort Myers over the break.
Seffner Christian used the tournament as a measuring stick for its then-undefeated team, given that most of its local games had quickly turned into lopsided contests. Outside of the games at the Queen of Palms, the Crusaders had won their games by an average score of 68-24.
Academy at the Lakes (16-2) figured to prove a stiffer challenge, boasting victories over solid programs such as Plant, Wiregrass Ranch and Academy of the Holy Names.
But it didn't take the Crusaders long to show the gap between the teams.
After the Wildcats scored in the first four seconds, they didn't make another basket until midway through the second quarter. By that time, Seffner Christian had opened a 30-11 lead.
The Crusaders pushed the pace and soon wore down the Wildcats, who only dressed eight players. Compounding Academy's problems was early foul trouble for senior Timecia Cohen, who drew her fourth foul on a technical with three minutes remaining in the first half. Cohen fouled out midway through the third quarter.
"They have a ton more depth," Wildcats coach Karim Nohra said. "The bottom line is I made a strategical error in our plan of attack. I had a gut thing; I should have gone with my gut."
Asked what the alternative was, Nohra quipped: "Not going to tell you."
Mauger led the Wildcats with 14, Manuel added 11 and seventh-grader Taylor Polasky chipped in with nine.