AVON PARK - Lake Placid put up a valiant effort, but couldn't overcome a 23-point effort from McKeel Academy's Avree Carpenter, as the Wildcats defeated the Green Dragons by a score of 49-40 to clinch the girls basketball Class 4A-District 9 title Friday night in Avon Park.
"McKeel is a very good team," said Lake Placid coach Jackie Coyne. "We had a game plan, but unfortunately we didn't stick to it. And we didn't make our easy shots and our free throws. That will get you every time."
The district runner-up still advances to the state regional quarterfinals. Lake Placid will play the winner of Saturday night's 4A-10 district finals game between Tampa's Academy of the Holy Names and Tampa Catholic. The Dragons will be making the trip over to the bay area Thursday night for their regional quarterfinal match-up.
The score was tight from the outset, with McKeel holding a 7-6 advantage. But the Wildcats ran off a 7-0 spurt to take a 14-6 lead near the end of the first quarter.
Lake Placid's Quiahja Williams netted a layup to cut the deficit to 16-11, but a flurry of baskets from Carpenter stretched the Wildcats' lead to 22-11. From there, McKeel ballooned its lead to 27-19 at the half.
The Dragons were kicking themselves during the break over missed opportunities. Lake Placid missed a slew a layups due to the frenzied pace of the game, and when the Dragons earned their way to the free throw line, they failed to capitalize. Lake Placid finished the night a paltry 7 of 22 from the charity stripe.
Behind Jenny Herstein and Anne Weber-Callahan, the Dragons rallied in the third quarter. Weber-Callahan was a terror in the paint, crashing the boards and snagging what seemed like every loose ball. Meanwhile, Herstein, who had struggled to find her shooting touch in the fist half, found the bottom of the net to help cut McKeel's lead to 27-22.
But like clockwork, Carpenter rose to the occasion, burying open jumpers and finding teammates to give McKeel some breathing room. Carpenter added four steals and two assists to go along with her game-high 23 points. Summer Alamm contributed 10 points and Tanner Esposito scored seven to round out the scoring for McKeel.
In the waning minutes, with McKeel leading by 10, the Dragons made one more run. Weber-Callahan scored six of her 12 points in the quarter, and Lake Placid cut the lead to 47-40. But time ran out on the Dragons and they fell by nine points after a spirited rally.
Williams led Lake Placid with 18 points. Shaquavia Gayle scored 11, while Weber-Callahan added 12 and Herstein netted five.
Coyne said she was impressed with her team's resolve and views Friday's game as a valuable learning experience.
"We're a young team," she said. "We're inexperienced and we weren't projected to do much this year. They're learning, and what better place to learn than in the district championship game."
"We had a nice game," Coyne said. "We just didn't play exactly the way we needed to. I was never uncomfortable tonight - the game was always attainable. We just couldn't break that five-point gap. But I'm proud of my kids."