HCA’s season ends; Eagles, Hornets make history

Photography by Cheryl Clanton

BROOKSVILLE – For two out of three of the remaining Hernando County girls basketball squads, Thursday night will be one forever immortalized in the record books.
But for Hernando Christian Academy, in a season full of memorable moments, the Class 2A, Region 2 semifinal against Jacksonville-Seacoast Christian was a game the Lady Lions would likely prefer to forget. Putting their speed and athleticism on display, the visiting Lady Eagles jumped out a big lead early and remained in control the rest of the way, sending HCA to a 58-28 defeat.
Shyann McElwain concentrates before attempting a foul shot. Photo by Cheryl Clanton

“Sometimes you just run into a better team. They’re quicker than you, and that doesn’t happen to us very often,” HCA head coach Mike Drummond said. “The goal was to get it down to 10, maybe give ourselves a shot. Then we just kind of ran out of gas. We had to gamble a little bit, and they took advantage. They’re well-coached.
“It was tough to get to that position where you start to realize that, ‘Wow, this season is coming to an end.’ It really effected those seniors I think a lot. They’ve worked really hard to get to this point. But like I told them, I said, ‘Hey, you’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.’ Two-time defending (district) champions, Elite Eight last year. We just ran up against a team that was better than us today.”
Point guard Abby Jackson takes the ball up the court for the Lady Lions on Thursday night. Photo by Cheryl Clanton

Seacoast Christian (25-3) jumped out to as much as a 23-4 advantage in the second quarter, and after the Lady Lions (23-3) made a small run the Lady Eagles carried a 27-12 edge into the intermission.
The lead hovered around 20 for much of the second half, and extended further in the fourth as Chasiti Snead scored 10 of her 25 points in the final period. She also finished with 16 rebounds and two blocks, Drummond pointing to her as the biggest difference-maker in the game.
Stephani Snead added 10 points, nine boards and four steals, while point guard Gabbie Campbell had nine points, three steals and two blocks, and was instrumental in negating HCA’s typical advantage in the open court.
Milly Jackson sets up the offense for HCA against Seacoast Christian. Photo by Cheryl Clanton

Senior Lauren Zappone paced the Lady Lions with eight points and 12 rebounds.
“I’m proud of what we did. You kind of get excited because you realize that Academy at the Lakes and FAMU are now out of the way (in 2A). But like I told the girls before, we can’t think that way because all of these teams are quality when you get to this point,” Drummond said. “We thought we would do a little better in front of our home crowd. It was great to see everyone wearing white in here. But just wasn’t our night.
“The only team in school history to win 23 games; 23-3. Forty games (won), an average of 20 games per season the last two years. I think it’s a tribute to those seniors and all the hard work they’ve put in. Obviously, right now we’re feeling terrible. But when we look back on it, two-time defending district champions and all the wins that we’ve had; it definitely is a successful season.”
The season will continue for the other two county teams to advance beyond districts. Both Springstead and Weeki Wachee recorded the first regional win in program history.
For the Lady Hornets, the trip to Anclote for a Class 6A, Region 2 quarterfinal represented their first-ever regional appearance. It went extremely well, resulting in a 65-50 triumph.
“We dominated the boards. We had size over every position,” Weeki Wachee head coach Mike Munro said. “Their best game is quickness and 3-point shooting, and I thought our defense shut down some of their 3s. On the boards, we just dominated. We just imposed our will all throughout the game.”
Three players recorded double-doubles to lead the Lady Hornets (21-8), with Shayleese Vazquez totaling 26 points and 17 rebounds, followed by Seytia Hill with 16 points and 14 boards, and Taylor Miller adding 10 points and 13 rebounds.
When Munro took the helm prior to the 2015-16 campaign, the Lady Hornets had won a total of five games in their entire four-year history, all of them in 2012-13. They compiled a 50-game losing skid before going 15-11 last season, and have built upon that this go-round.
“They had to learn how to win, and this year we took another step,” Munro said. “Hopefully it makes young girls coming through our school system want to be basketball players.”
In next Tuesday’s regional semifinals, Weeki Wachee will face Crystal River in a matchup of last week’s district final, won by the Lady Pirates, 48-43.
“Now we’ve got to play a team that has beaten us three times,” Munro said. “That’s OK. We know them, they know us and every game has gotten closer and closer. We just as soon play them as anybody.”
It took Springstead 40 seasons to finally reach regionals, an achievement that occurred a year ago. A 51-46 win at Tampa-King in Thursday’s 7A-2 quarterfinals provided another first.
It got tense late for the Lady Eagles (12-9), who led by as much as 14 in the third quarter before King rallied to tie the game at 45 with around a minute left to play. Reagan Huden then sank four free throws and Springstead was able hold on for the historic victory.
“We dominate for three quarters and tend to lose our minds for a few minutes,” Springstead head coach Jay McNerney said. “Luckily we were able to make our free throws down the stretch.
“It was just rebounds and we got good shots (early in the game). It was not a big deal. We made good passes, we had good ball movement.”
Like Weeki Wachee, the Lady Eagles move on to a Tuesday semifinal that’s also a rematch of the district championship tilt, against Sunlake. Springstead split two regular-season meetings with the Lady Seahawks before last week’s 62-54 loss.
“We’ve got to rebound. We’ve got to keep them off the glass. They’re going to press. We need to run our press break, and we need to keep (Andrea Wallace) away from the basket. And we can’t get in a running game with them,” McNerney said. “Now we’ve proven we can win. I’ve been telling them the whole season, so that doesn’t make a liar.”
Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr.

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