ORLANDO — The Crystal River girls basketball team knew Friday night’s Region 4A-2 championship game was going to be tough. Just maybe not this tough.
The Pirates — ranked 10th on MaxPreps.com in Class 4A entering the game — were not only facing the top-ranked 4A squad in Lake Highland Prep, the Highlanders are also ranked No. 1 in the state of Florida and the nation.
It was evident early on the Highlanders are more than worthy of those rankings. A pair of 3-pointers made it 6-0 less than a minute into the game and a pair of LHP layups off Crystal River turnovers forced coach Charles Bryant to use a timeout just two minutes into the game with the deficit already 10-0.
The Highlanders would use a dominant offensive and defensive effort in the opening quarter to take a staggering 33-0 lead into the second quarter, on their way to an impressive 81-20 triumph.
The Pirates closed out another outstanding season with a 19-4 mark, while the Highlanders march on to the Class 4A Final Four with a perfect 17-0 record.
“We don’t see anything like that. The game started off and the girls were like, ‘Coach, they’re faster than we are. They’re bigger than we are. There’s nothing that we can do.’ It’s a case where if you see it all the time, than maybe you can be more competitive. We don’t see it, ever,” Bryant said. “People always ask me ‘Why do you play Carrollwood Day every year when you go get beat?’ It was to prepare for something like this. But even Carrollwood isn’t going to prepare us for this.”
It was 35-0 early in the second quarter when the Pirates finally got on the board with a corner 3-pointer from Haley Herman — one of five seniors closing out great careers.
Herman added a nice layup in the closing seconds of the second quarter, as LHP took a 53-5 lead into the half.
With a running clock the entire second half, it went by quickly.
The Pirates got a lot better looks at the basket in the second half and were able to put 15 points on the board over the final 16 minutes of action.
“We knew they were a really good team. Just because we’re all seniors, we wanted to come out and try to put some points on the board,” senior Jordan Williams said. “We knew they were much bigger than us. Just mainly trying to finish out our season on a good note.
“They were better than we expected. We didn’t come in thinking it was going to be this bad. They’re better than we expected.”
Herman and Alysa Jenkins finished with seven points each for the Pirates, while Williams, Ijy’ana Edwards and Jordan Martynowski each added two.
It was the end of the road for an outstanding senior class of Herman, Jenkins, Williams, Martynowski and Rikelle Trenary.
“They are one of the most accomplished seniors classes, if not the most accomplished,” Bryant said. “You have a district championship, an Elite Eight appearance, another Sweet 16 appearance, they’ve been in the state playoffs all four years. They never lost a county game in their entire careers. It’s something that doesn’t happen very often.”
Williams said it was appropriate that the five seniors ended the game on the court together as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
“It was pretty nice to close it out together. We’ve done some pretty good things as a group,” she said.
The Pirates will have some holes to fill next season, but Bryant said the cupboard is far from bare.
“There’s still a lot of talented girls coming back,” he said. “You saw glimpses of it with Jaylin (DeVaughn), Ijy’ana (Edwards), Xena (Bellamy). That’s a three-headed monster that’s just going to keep getting better and better.”
The Highlanders — with three players over six-foot tall — dominated on the inside, as well as the outside with 13 made 3-pointers.
A balanced scoring attacked was led by Nyla Harris with 18. Eleecia Carter added 14 and four other Highlanders scored in double figures.