Manta Rays sting Blue Streaks

Special to Highlands Today

SEBRING - Any chances of the Sebring Blue Streaks girls basketball team hosting the Class 5A-District 11 tournament ended with a 42-37 loss to Lemon Bay on Friday night.

The loss dropped the Blue Streaks to 13-3 overall and 3-2 in the district, with both losses to Lemon Bay, with one district game left to play.

Lemon Bay improved their overall record to 11-7, but more importantly the Manta Rays remained undefeated in the district at 5-0, securing first place and the number one seed.

The two main factors in the game was a change in defense with three minutes left in the first half and free throw shooting.

On the first point, Sebring coach Mike Lee focused the blame unto himself for changing the defense from man-to-man to a zone defense.

"This loss is totally 100 percent on me," said Lee. "I called the wrong defenses and put them in the wrong places. We played a great first quarter, great man-to-man and I switched it to see what we had and I should not have."

"I should have recognized it earlier and put them back in man. The second half was tight, the first quarter was tight, the only time it was not was when we went into zone. That's on me, they do what I tell them to do and I put them in the wrong defenses."

Sebring scored the first four points of the game, but Lemon Bay held a 10-8 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Scoring continue to be at a premium over the first four minutes in the second quarter as both teams only managed three points each with Lemon the Manta rays clinging to a 13-11 lead.

With less than four minutes to play in the half, Sebring switched from playing man-to-man and went into a zone defense. Lemon Bay quickly capitalized as Kacyn Shirley scored 12 of her game high 20 points in three minutes, including a trio of 3-pointers from behind the arc.

"She was able to get those 3-point shots because we were in the wrong defense," said Lee. "She was able to get open against the zone defense and we did not have time to get to her. That and the rebounding, we rebounded ten times better when playing in the man defense."

"We have been working on playing against zone," said Lemon Bay coach Mike Young. "And it's something we need to keep working on in passing the ball. To beat a zone, you have to make shots, otherwise they will sit in that zone all day. We were able to make enough shots outside."

The game shifted from being a tight defensive battle to Lemon Bay holding a 10-point lead at the intermission, 27-17.

Sebring shifted back to the man-to-man defense in the second half and after falling behind as much as 13 points, 33-20 with three minutes left in the third quarter, the Blue Streaks scored the final seven points of the quarter.

Trailing 33-27 to start the final period, Sebring sliced that lead in half on a 3-pointer by Christacia Dawkins as the Blue Streaks trailed the Manta Rays 36-33 with 5:27 left to play.

Momentum quickly shifted back to Lemon Bay as the Manta Rays scored the next four points to increase their lead back to 40-33 with less than three minutes left to play. From that point, they slowed the pace of the game to run time off the clock.

Sebring did not foul nearly quick enough and did not push to ball up the court with any sense of urgency as time was running out.

After Rondaja Williams made a basket to get Sebring back within three, 40-37, with 20 seconds left in the game, it took nearly 10 seconds for Sebring to foul Lemon Bay.

The Manta Rays made both foul shots to increase their lead to 42-37 with 10 seconds left. The Sebring offense slowly moved the ball up the court, never taking a real shot at the basket as time ran out.

"We knew it was going to be a hard game," said young. "Sebring is well-coached and physical. We just tried to match their intensity early on, get some easy baskets and block out."

"A passing team will beat a zone easy," said Lee. "And that's what Lemon Bay did. It was that one sequence where they got those 3-pointers and that was the big lead we weren't able to overcome."

Lee also stated that the lack of production from the foul line hurt them as well as the sense of no urgency as time was running down.

"We have been shooting 60 percent from the line," said Lee. "If we had done that tonight, it would have been a tie game towards the end."

Sebring made only 5 of 17 from the charity stripe.

The Blue Streaks next game is at home against the Okeechobee Brahmans on Tuesday with a start time of 7:30 p.m.