CLASS 4A, DISTRICT 7: Yellowjackets quiet critics, beat Central 57-46 for consecutive district titles.
By FRANK PASTOR
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 16, 2003
BROOKSVILLE -- Coach Paula Nesbitt heard the critics after Leesburg started the season 0-8.
In Saturday's Class 4A, District 7 final, Nesbitt let her defense do the talking.
Leesburg's full-court pressure smothered Central in the first six minutes, putting the Bears in an eight-point hole they were unable to dig out of in a 57-46 loss.
"Our record isn't what we want it to be," Nesbitt said. "So many people had such negative things to say about us, and this is like saying, 'In your face.' Our girls worked hard all year to get ourselves to this point, and this is just the big payoff."
Leesburg (13-17) took its lumps early, playing a tough non-district schedule that included games against Ocala Vanguard, ranked No. 3 in 4A by floridakids.net, and Lake Brantley.
But the Yellowjackets never stopped working, and their perseverance paid off with a consecutive district title and third since 1996, when Nesbitt played at Leesburg.
Freshman Sharece Taft had team highs of 22 points and 18 rebounds, including 13 offensive. Sharpshooter Danielle Harris, playing with groin and ankle injuries, made no 3-pointers but got to the line eight times to finish with 17 points.
But it was the Yellowjackets defense that set the tone.
Leesburg forced one Central turnover after another while jumping to a quick 9-1 lead. The further the Bears fell behind, the more they picked up the pace, playing right into the Yellowjackets' hands.
"We were always fighting to catch back up," Central coach Lori Lessley said. "Then, I think, it caused us to mentally think we've got to hurry to do it."
Central (20-6) closed to within 36-31 on Tamara Tatham's jump shot with 46 seconds left in the third quarter. But Harris answered with a layup and a free throw, and Taft added a putback in the final seconds of the quarter to give Leesburg a 41-31 lead heading into the fourth.
Central got no closer than six the rest of the way.
"Coach always told us, defense wins games, and in order for you to play defense, you have to work together as a team, watch the screens and the rest of that stuff, because if you don't, they'll score," Taft said.
Central guard/forward Samantha Downing, the Bears' leading scorer with 13 points, injured an ankle early in the fourth quarter. Lessley said she hopes to have Downing back for the Bears' region quarterfinal Thursday against the Ridgewood/Land O'Lakes winner.