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First state basketball title remains elusive for Plant girls

One bad quarter throws the Panthers off their game in a Class 7A loss to Miami.
Plant junior Nyla Jean pulls up for a layup during the second quarter of Saturday night's Class 7A state final in Lakeland.
Plant junior Nyla Jean pulls up for a layup during the second quarter of Saturday night's Class 7A state final in Lakeland. [ CORTNEY LESOVOY | Special to the Times ]
Published Mar. 1, 2020
Updated Mar. 1, 2020

LAKELAND — Plant’s best season in school history ended with a thud Saturday night. The Panthers had a disastrous second quarter and never recovered in a 63-38 loss to Miami in the Class 7A final at the RP Funding Center.

Plant (30-2) was trying to win its first state title. This was also the Panthers’ first state championship appearance.

“It was never our game,” Plant coach Carrie Mahon said. “It just never felt good.”

The Panthers did not start very well and it only got worse from there. They made three shots in the first quarter but trailed by just three points at 11-8. Then things unraveled.

As the Stingarees started to heat up, Plant couldn’t keep up.

Plant's Honor Culpepper defends against Miami's Naire Lucas during the second quarter.
Plant's Honor Culpepper defends against Miami's Naire Lucas during the second quarter. [ CORTNEY LESOVOY | Special to the Times ]

With Miami up 13-12 after Plant sophomore Silvia Farfante made two free throws early in the second, the Stingarees went on to score the next 18 points to close out the quarter. Colleen Bucknor began making layups underneath, and Darria Whitley and Kiara Cruz each made two 3-pointers.

The Panthers made just one shot in the second quarter and were 4-for-19 in the half. And it didn’t help Plant’s cause that guard Honor Culpepper picked up her third foul with three minutes left and had to sit out the rest of the half.

“We just could not find the basket, literally,” Mahon said. “Inside, outside. We just could not make our shots, and they were makeable. We just didn’t play well. We were flipping defenses trying to find something that would work. Haven’t had a game like this all year. Not even close. We were never in it.”

The third quarter started with some promise for Plant, which scored the first four points. But the Stingarees (27-5) wouldn’t let Plant get any closer than 13 and led 37-22 going into the final quarter.

Plant's Kendal Cheesman protects the ball against Miami's Colleen Bucknor during the second half.
Plant's Kendal Cheesman protects the ball against Miami's Colleen Bucknor during the second half. [ CORTNEY LESOVOY | Special to the Times ]

The Panthers closed to within 11 after the first three minutes of the fourth after a Kendal Cheesman 3-pointer. But that just seemed to ignite Miami, which went on an 11-2 run and ballooned the lead to 50-30. From there, the Stingarees were able to empty the bench and start celebrating.

That was a much different feeling for the Stingarees than last year. They lost the Class 9A state title in overtime to Wekiva.

For the game, Plant was 11-for-53 from the field, 20.8 percent. Cheesman was a bright spot. She led the Panthers with 16 points. Nyla Jean added 10.

Bucknor and Jeannine Scott were the main offensive weapons for the Stingarees. Scott scored 22 points, including 9-of-11 free throws. Bucknor added 21 points. Miami made 20-of-27 free throws.

The loss snapped Plant’s 21-game win streak. While the loss isn’t what the Panthers expected, Mahon said it was still a memorable season.

“I’m so proud of girls,” Mahon said. “There was never a give up moment. We had constant fight. As silly as it sounds, I’m just so proud to coach this team.”

Plant players console each other after losing the Class 7A final to Miami on Saturday night in Lakeland.
Plant players console each other after losing the Class 7A final to Miami on Saturday night in Lakeland. [ CORTNEY LESOVOY | Special to the Times ]