SARASOTA — The Plant girls basketball team has never looked more in control of their journey. After a dominant 52-26 region semifinal victory over Sarasota Riverview Tuesday night, the Panthers appear headed for a state championship appearance next week in Lakeland.
The Panthers, ranked No. 1 in Class 7A by MaxPreps, did have a tussle on their hands with the No. 4-ranked Rams until the midpoint of the second quarter. At that point, Plant (23-3) held a 16-15 lead and Riverview (20-2) had just made a long 3-pointer, bringing the home crowd screaming to their feet.
The Panthers never blinked.
“We felt confident the whole time,” senior guard Nyla Jean said. “We just needed to make a little adjustment.”
Plant coach Carrie Mahon called a timeout and told her girls to push the pace more in transition. Jean and the Panthers did just that, promptly reeling off a 23-3 run and taking a 37-18 lead into the fourth quarter.
Perhaps most importantly, Plant never allowed Riverview to score in double digits in any quarter and held the Rams to just three in the third quarter.
“Our defense was just absolutely outstanding and that’s a testament to all of them working so hard together,” Mahon said. “I feel very good about everything that we’re doing right now. This team is so much fun to coach it’s unbelievable.”
Once again, Jean and fellow senior Kendal Cheesman led the scoring with 13 and 17 points, respectively. Sophomore Tanner Strickland added 11.
Plant moves on to host Friday’s region final against Orlando Oak Ridge, which comes in ranked No. 16 with a 15-8 record after defeating Windemere 58-50.
Ultimately, the Panthers hope to avenge last year’s 63-38 state final loss to Miami High with a championship.
But after Tuesday’s victory Jean was quick to say, “We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves. One game at a time. We know that’s how we have to do it.”