ST. JOHNS — Gulf’s 18-game unbeaten run came to an end Saturday night in a 56-39 defeat to host Bartram Trail (22-6) in a Class 5A region final.
Bartram Trail’s swarming full-court pressure rattled Gulf into a slew of first-quarter turnovers, leaving the Buccaneers stuck in a deep hole the entire game. After just seven minutes, 55 seconds of action, Bartram Trail led 26-4.
“We let them jump on us early,” Gulf coach Mike Quarto said. “By the time we settled down, we were playing catchup all night long.”
Gulf’s offense was spurred by junior guard Kadejah Saunders, the leading scorer in the first two playoff victories over Tavares and Pasco.
This time, Saunders converted 10 of 20 shots from the field and finished with a game-high 22 points. Her 11 second-quarter points outscored the entire Bartram Trail team for the quarter.
Saunders’ efforts helped bring Gulf (28-3) back into the contest, as the Bucs regained their offensive rhythm in the second and third quarters. They narrowed the gap to ten points midway through the third, but Bartram Trail’s superior performance on free throws — 20 of 27 from the line — enabled them to weather the offensive flurry.
Senior guard Allie Mano led Bartram Trail with 20 points.
“We got to the regional final, one step further in the state playoffs than we did last year. We return eight out of 10 kids,” Quarto said. “It’s a great learning experience, and hopefully next year we get back to this game with a different outcome.”