Lady Cavs advance to tourney final

Published 11:08 pm Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The term “balanced scoring” hasn’t been applied to the Lakeland High girls basketball team very often in recent seasons. But that’s what the Cavaliers displayed Monday in dispatching Ocean Lakes, 55-42, in their school’s holiday tournament. The victory boosted Lakeland into Tuesday’s 6 p.m. title game against Warwick, a victor over Surry earlier on Monday.

Last season, the Cavaliers too often relied on forward Terika Lunsford, although rookie head coach Alan Jones improved the program enough to claim the final berth in the eight-team Southeastern District tournament. Things had improved somewhat through the first six games this season, but Monday was a breakthrough, with Lakeland (3-4) prevailing despite an off night from Lunsford.

The senior made only 4 of 16 field goal attempts and finished with 14 points, roughly half of what Jones said she needs to score for her team to win on a consistent basis. But Quanisha Knight scored 15 points and Kaylyn Chatman added 12, both guards hitting some clutch 3-point shots to keep the Dolphins (2-6) at bay. Forward Ashley Johnson contributed 10 points, including four in the final two minutes.

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“We always want Lunsford to score in the 20s and 30s, but at least tonight, we were able to take some of the scoring weight off her shoulders,” Jones said. “We’ve struggled to close out games and have caved in and made mental mistakes towards the end sometimes, but we made some key shots late and I’m thrilled.”

Lakeland trailed 15-14 midway through the second quarter but led 26-21 at halftime before trailing 35-33 after three quarters. The Cavaliers’ 22-7 scoring advantage in the final stanza featured them playing tough, inside basketball on offense, resulting in four hoops from the paint and six awarded free throws. Lunsford scored eight of her team’s final 24 points, including six unanswered points midway through the fourth quarter.

Jones was especially happy with the play of senior point guard Chatman, who he said has added scoring to her game after being mainly a distributor last season.

“Last year she looked to pass first but this year she’s knocking down some big-time shots,” the coach said. “She’s getting better and gaining confidence each game and so are the younger kids we brought up from junior varsity after last year. Early on, they struggled to adapt to this level but it’s coming around.”

Samm Ruhlman led Ocean Lakes with 16 points and the Dolphins made only 17 of 55 field-goal attempts (31 percent). Lakeland made 19 of 52 field-goal attempts (37 percent) and shot nearly 50 percent in the second half after making fewer than 30 percent of their first-half attempts.