Wildcats fall short

Wesley Chapel gives Freedom a scare.

Published February 10, 2006

WESLEY CHAPEL - An undefeated season was in the toilet.

The letters F-r-e-e-d-o-m suddenly read v-u-l-n-e-r-a-b-l-e.

The Patriots felt challenged to reclaim their commanding reputation. They did so with a 67-45 win at Wesley Chapel.

"We were more focused and ready to play tonight," Freedom coach Nancy Kroll said. "The girls had something to prove. The district loss may have been a wakeup call for us. It's very difficult to have an undefeated season."

A two-point loss to Armwood in the district tournament sent a stunned Freedom team on the road.

For the opening quarter, the Wildcats (21-4) illustrated why holding homecourt is so important. Freedom (28-1) did its best to stay afloat.

Sthefany Thomas set a speedy pace scoring 11 of her game-high 23 points to lift Wesley Chapel by as many as nine points in the first eight minutes.

"We came out fired up," Wesley Chapel coach Warren Jones said. "Then we got a little bit tired. We started making tired mistakes to let them back in it. They are a very solid ball club. They took advantage of our little mistakes. That's what good ball clubs do."

Freedom countered with Tandra Faulkner, who scored a team-high 18, and an interior presence to claim a one-point advantage by halftime.

The Patriots rolled in the second half thanks in part to Charkia Harvey (17 points) and Brianna Nelson (16).

Defensively, Freedom went to a box-and-1 to key on Thomas. It worked. Thomas was held to nine second-half points and no field goals in the fourth quarter.

Freedom poured on a double-digit lead.

"She was scoring a lot of points," Kroll said of Thomas. "She was getting offensive rebounds. She is a great player. But my five very good players should be able to beat a great player on a good team. I think we proved that tonight."

Shortly after Jones gave his season-ending speech in the Wildcats locker room, players emptied out onto the floor wiping tears from their eyes.

Jones couldn't help but crack a smile reflecting on an unprecedented season with a school record for wins.

"It was a great season," Jones said. "I'm most proud that instead of individuals, these girls played with each other. We're a team. We'll always be a team.

"I can't be prouder." Land O'Lakes ousted

SEFFNER - Armwood was slow to get the offense started but when the Hawks did start shooting in the first half the points came in threes. In the first quarter Monique Reynard went 4-for-5 with four 3-pointers.

"I was playing within the flow of the game," Reynard said. "I wasn't thinking about it at all, I just wanted to win."

Reynard had two more 3-pointers in the second quarter as the Hawks went on to defeat the Gators 59-45.

"Monique is a great shooter," Armwood coach Bob Pafunda said. "(Land O' Lakes) seemed to focus on Willonda (Windham) early on and that left Mo open to make the three's."

The Hawks seemed to have a slow start, missing their first five shots before Reynard opened up the scoring with three straight 3-pointers. After building a 23-point lead at the end of the third quarter focus again seemed to be a problem as Armwood turned the ball over and scored only six points, all coming on free throws.

"We were a little bit sluggish," Pafunda admitted. "Our practices were like that too. We were really mentally drained from the district championship game Saturday night. I think (the team) is still celebrating that."

Land O' Lakes was led by Kayli Keough who had 18 points. The Hawks offense was helped by Willonda Windham with 16 points and Tamika Hepburn with 12.

At halftime Pafunda handed Windham a game ball in recognition of the senior's 1,000 career points. Windham reached the milestone against Bloomingdale in the district semifinal. She added 26 points in the final, a win against Freedom. Williams now has 1,042 career points.

- JARRETT GUTHRIE, Times correspondent