ORANGE PARK - In the opening round of the district 3-5A Tournament, against Robert E. Lee High, the number one seeded Middleburg High Lady Broncos basketball team came limping onto the court as four starters were struck with a bug running through the team.
“I had some dead soldiers in that locker room at the half,” said Bronco Head Coach Michael Hayward.
The team put on a display of raw intestinal fortitude to push through their ills and send the Lady Generals home for the 2020 season with a dominating 73-59 victory. “We always look to Britany (Range), but tonight, she took the game into her hands and kept it close all night,” said Hayward, noting Range’s 20 points for the night.
The win put the Broncos into the Friday night championship game to face off against the number three seeded Terry Parker Braves (13-8) where Range doubled up with a 20 point to lead the Lady Broncos to the district title with a 55-39 win. The win puts Middleburg (18-6) as the top seed in region 1-5A with a home region playoff game against eighth-seeded Booker T. Washington (16-8) out of Pensacola.
The Braves beat Orange Park in their semifinal and did not get a region playoff berth. With his starting point guard home in bed, and four other ladies not at 100 percent, the Broncos pulled out all the stops to make sure they would return Friday night.
“I told them at practice last night, we fought adversity all season, some self-inflicted. We knew coming into tonight, we have even more adversity with the illness running through the team,” said Hayward. “If we just fight hard, we give ourselves a chance. To those unaware of the team illness, you would think the team just didn’t want to be out there as passes either went out of bounds, or passed right to a Lee General. By half, 10 passes went to no one and flew out of bounds. But the team had a leader who refused to lose.”
Range simply blocked out her illness and threw the team on her back.
“It just kept going through my head; we have to do whatever it takes to bring it home” said a depleted Range post game.
So exhausted were the Broncos, at halftime, the team elected to stay in the locker
room to hydrate and rest until one minute to play, came out and sat on the bench without even warming up.
Out of the locker room, the Broncos quickly went up on the Generals 35-34.
In the last 90 seconds of the third, Range hit another of her five three-pointers on the night to push the Broncos out to 49-47, then closed the quarter 51-47.
Noticeable was the awakening of forward Skylar Baltezegar who had two points in the first half, then piled on 12 in the third quarter alone.
“I just knew we had the heart for that,” said Baltezegar, who finished with 20 points against Lee and 12 against Parker with 12 rebounds. “I knew no matter what, we’re going to pull it out. I know how hard Britany plays and fights, so I just knew fighting them with her, we would pull it out. I pulled all that energy from her and we both pushed through.”
Fleming Island hammered by Creekside
Fleming Island High was without ace three point shooter Avery Cannon with an ankle injury and the void was filled by Creekside shooters who scorched the nets to a 63-39 district 3-6A title in the Creekside High Gym on Friday.
Creekside blasted to a 16-7 first quarter lead then punched up a 22-6 third quarter to seal the win. Creekside advances to the region playoffs facing Columbia on Wed., Feb. 13. Fleming Island’s season ends at 13-11.
Keystone Heights falls by a point to North Marion
Keystone Heights High girls basketball stayed within 1-2 points throughout their district 5-4A championship game with North Marion, but fell a point shy in a 45-44 loss Friday night in Keystone Heights. North Marion improved to 19-8 and advances to the region 2-4 playoffs on Wed., Feb. 13 against Bishop Moore. Keystone Heights finishes at 12-13.
“Ashton Ludwig hit a three pointer with 10 seconds to go to get to 44-45,” said Keystone Heights coach Jessica Carter. “The girls knew that our turnovers had to decrease, especially in the playoffs. I have a great coaching staff that helped me breakdown and prepare for each tram we met. We focused on one team at a time and when that team was defeated we focused on the next one.”
Keystone Heights advanced with impressive tournament wins over Santa Fe, 54-10, and second-seed Bradford, 38-19, to get to the championship game.
Against Santa Fe, Ashton Ludwig led the Lady Indians scoring with 12 points with Lindsay Qualls adding nine and Emma Rogel hitting for eight. Bradford had beaten Keystone Heights 37-29 on December 3.
Against North Marion, Maddy Barnhart had 14 points with Nyasia McGruder adding 12. Kiley Channell had six steals and six assists. Keystone Heights won the district 4-5A title last year and was ousted at regions by Bolles in the quarterfinals.
Lady Spartans short in district final
St. Johns Country Day School had a hobbling lead scorer; Kendall Sage, but battled back from a 33-16 first half to outscore Countryside Christian 15-6 in the third period to close the gap to 39-31.
Lead scorer Mary Kate Kent hit for 26 points with six three-pointers with Sage at just five with minimum playing time.
A 17-11 fourth quarter got the game to within two, but Countryside held to win the district 3-2A tital 50-48 at the St. Johns Country Day School gym on Friday.
Kinley Hall led the boards with nine rebounds with Sage grabbing eight.
Ironically, Countryside Christian (16-4), the third seed, will host St. Johns Country Day School (17-8), the sixth seed, in the first region playoff game on Wed., Feb. 12. Countryside was the Florida Christian Athletic League conference champion last year. On the opposite side of the bracket, second seed Florida A & M (13-7) hosts seventh seed Meadowbrook Academy (13-11). Florida A & M was a Final Four finisher last year and beat St. Johns in the region semifinal.