WWHS defense clamps
down in fourth quarter
limiting Eagles to 1 FG
By TONY CASTRO
SPRING HILL – Counting the preseason, 6A-7 runner-up Weeki Wachee entered Wednesday’s non-district county affair at Springstead High behind four straight one-sided blowout victories.
But the host Lady Eagles served as no pushovers. Actually, just the opposite occurred.
Springstead, the two-time defending 7A-8 runners-up, staggered the Hornets by scoring 20 of the game’s initial 27 points to lead by as many as 13 points with 6:03 left in the second quarter on freshman Tianna Stifanic’s three-pointer, 20-7.
The Hornets (1-0 county, 2-1 overall), who eventually misfired on 42-of-57 field goal attempts (74 percent), clanked 10-of-18 foul shots (56 percent), and suffered 15 turnovers, rallied behind junior Mykenna Corbett’s game-high 21 points to stave off the Eagles, 40-37.
It wasn’t easy.
Springstead (1-1 county, 2-1 overall) could only fault itself.
The Lady Eagles missed 44-of-59 field goal attempts (75 percent) and 10 of its 11 free throws (91 percent) while suffering a game-high 18 turnovers.
Yet, inside six seconds remaining, the hosts remained in the game.
As SHS senior and Hernando County’s defending Player of the Year Reagan Huden, crossed midcourt with the dribble, she was confronted with a double team and wisely dished the ball to Stifanic.
Stifanic attempted a shot that was blocked. She scrambled picked up the loose ball and fired another shot where she appeared to get hit – but no whistles were blown – as the shot harmlessly missed. Game over.
The last two Eagles’ shot attempts were a microcosm of its fourth-quarter futility.
SHS, which appeared exhausted, clanked 11-of-12 field goal attempts along the last eight minutes and misfired on all but one of its five charity stripe attempts.
Only senior Megan Nelski’s layup with 53 seconds left in the game served as the Eagles only bucket in the fourth quarter.
Huden, who had buried 58 combined points in her first two Eagles’ wins, sank only one of last 12 field goal attempts.
The three-time All-County guard finished with a team-best 14 points, including draining four of her team’s six three-pointers.
A fifth three-pointer was controversial. Huden’s apparent fifth trey hit the back of the rim bounced high in the air and with a shooter’s touch floated threw the rim.
But two officials quickly disallowed the three-pointer because it apparently grazed one of the support straps above the basket – otherwise, the game could’ve been tied going into the last five seconds.
Huden, the county’s leading foul shooter last season at 74 percent, also missed a pair of front end one-and-one situations, that could’ve altered the outcome.
SHS’ active 6-foot-1 junior Yhanni Batts added nine points and 11 rebounds to keep the Eagles in the hunt.
For the Hornets, the two-time All-County performer Corbett served as the difference maker.
The transfer from Central, missed four of her first five shots as the visitors fell behind early.
Down 20-7, Corbett pumped in 18 of her 21 points on 7-of-19 shooting from the court, featuring two three-pointers.
Shayleese “Mama” Vasquez was at the epicenter of WWHS’ frustration.
The normally silky-smooth shooting forward missed her first six shots before delivering a layup with 2:21 left in the first half.
Vasquez eventually finished with 11 hard-earned points converting five field goals – all layups – while misfiring on her other 17 attempts.
Junior Seytia Hill, who added six points, was never a factor in the game as she was saddled with foul trouble from almost the opening whistle.
Fourth-year SHS mentor Jay McNerney believed the Eagles had a game slip through its fingers.
“It was a good game, but we’ve got to learn to tighten up,” explained McNerney. “We missed a million shots and yet the game boiled down to one possession. One more basket made this awful close.”
Missed free throws angered McNerney, whose team led the circuit last season at 54 percent.
“We’ve got to make our free throws. We’re a lot better than this,” he said. “We also have a magic number of rebounds we like to get in every game and that’s 40. Tonight, we only got 36.”
Looking for a silver lining, “We’re playing with seven new girls. This was Nelski’s first game of the season. Vilca just got back, but wasn’t a factor. The biggest positive is we can coach up the girls through their mistakes. We have to keep one eye on February; that’s when we want to be peaking. We’re slowly bringing these girls along.”
Third-year WWHS skipper Mike Munro was equally exasperated with his team’s missed scoring opportunities.
“We couldn’t make it from the ocean,” quipped Munro. “This is the first real adversity we’ve had. We clocked the first four teams we played. This was a great test. It’s a testament to the quality of team we were playing tonight.”
On the Hornets’ turnaround, “After falling behind, we slowly chipped away. At halftime, we made some adjustments on their big kids. Our captain (Seytia Hill) told the girls ‘It’s time to play’ and they finally did.
“… Give credit to Springstead, those post players are big and active. I’m very impressed with Batts. She didn‘t wait for rebounds, she went up and got ’em ”
“Tonight was a tough game,” chimed the 17-year-old Vasquez. “We came in expecting a tough game. Their post people came to play. We thought the refs made some calls that didn’t favor us.”
On game’s difference, “This one was much different than the others we played,” responded Vasquez. “Springstead’s got a great team. Reagan (Huden) is great player. After we settled down, the difference was we played as a team down the stretch.”
“We came out missed some shots and starting arguing amongst ourselves,” recalled the 17-year-old Corbett. “We finally started pulling it together and playing as a team. If we don’t work together, we won’t win.”
Describing the Lady Eagles, “They’re a very good team,” noted Corbett. “I can’t wait to see where Reagan plays in college. I’m so impressed with her as a player.”
Weeki Wachee 40, Springstead 37
WEEKI WACHEE (40) – Bondulich 0 1-5 1, Storie 0, Hill 3 0-0 6, Corbett 7 5-721, Vasquez 5 1-4 11, McDaniel 0, Randall 0 1-2 1, McMurray 0. Totals: 15 8-18 40.
SPRINGSTEAD (37) – Huden 5 0-2 14, Stifanic 3 0-2 7, Batts 4 1-3 9, Nelski 3 0-0 7, McElwain 0 0-2 0, Basto 0, Vilca 0. Totals: 15 1-11 37.
3-point goals – WW (2): Corbett (2). SPG (6): Huden (4), Stifanic 1, Nelski 1.
Total fouls: WW: 16. SPG: 18.
Fouled out – none.
Technical fouls – none.
Records: Weeki Wachee (1-0 county, 4-0 overall), Springstead (1-1 county, 2-1 overall).