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Chaplin a bright spot for Barons

The first quarter painted an ominous picture.

Sasha Chaplin missed easy layups, banging the ball uncharacteristically against the backboard.

By the end of the opening stanza, Chaplin, who led SPC in scoring this season with a 13.5 average, managed two points on 1-of-4 shooting.

Then, with a little urging from teammates, Chaplin's game flipped on as quick as a light switch.

"They just kept telling me to relax and play my game," she said. And play she did.

Chaplin, after missing an open jumper in the lane, stole an inbound pass and sank a short banker to bring the Barons within 17-16. A few layups and free throw later, and Chaplin gave SPC its first lead, 23-21, on an assist from senior guard Shannon McElhaney.

The sophomore forward could not miss and, by the end of the quarter, Chaplin (6-3) had scored 15 straight points to give SPC a 29-23 halftime lead.

"She was just awesome, simply awesome," said Florida High coach Lisa Kelley, whose two-year record is 50-9. "She's an amazing player and her performance in the second quarter was incredibly impressive."

Chaplin, who was the tournament MVP, went on to shoot 14-of-22 from the field and finished with a double double, scoring 31 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.

"She dominated," said McElhaney, who had 11 assists. "It makes my job easier when you have talented players like Sasha down low to feed the ball. It's been a joy to play at SPC with her and Robin (Link) and Katie (Keegan) because, as a guard, they're the type of players you want on your team."

And with the graduation of Link (6-3) and Keegan (6-0), Chaplin now becomes the central focus of the Barons' offense. This year Chaplin started only when Link or Keegan were absent due to sickness or collegiate visits.

Even after Chaplin's blazing performance in the first half, SPC coach Nick Vandewalle stuck to his guns and kept his senior forwards in at the beginning of the third quarter.

"We've done that all year and I wasn't about to do that to my seniors," said Vandewalle, who is 0-2 in state finals. "They've performed all year for me and it's worked having Sasha come off the bench."

But, with the end of an era with Link and Keegan graduating, talk can begin about the Barons' chances for next year.

And while Vandewalle hesitated in acknowledging the new FHSAA transfer rule, hidden in the back of everyone's mind after Chaplin's performance was how fortunate the Barons are that she transferred from Admiral Farragut after last season.

"I made her promise me one thing," Vandewalle said. "Get back here so we can win it all."

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