It was a rough ending to a great season, as the Gateway Panthers saw their dreams of a state championship fall two games short in a 56-23 loss in a FHSAA Class 5-A  Final Four game against Mainland.
The Buccaneers dominated the game from start to finish, limiting the Panthers to just six field goals in the game and 20 percent shooting.
“Our goal was to stop number 20 (Maylana Stevenson),” Mainland coach Brandon Stewart said.  “She is a great player and is so good at taking the ball out front and driving the lane.  We knew we had to stop her to win.”
Mainland limited Stevenson — the Panthers leading scorer at 19 points per game– to just eight points on a three of 11 night shooting.  They did it by putting their best player, Anovia Sheals on her for the entire game.  Mainland also did a great job on Vanessa Diaz, who was averaging 16 points for the Panthers, by holding her to six points.
Meanwhile, the Panthers simply could not stop Sheals, who finished with 25 points, 15 rebounds and two blocked shots.  Jordan Boddie added 12 and Samantha Lecas added eight.
Gateway kept the game relatively close in the first half, forcing some turnovers but still trailed by 11 at the half, 23-12.   But Mainland would go on an 8-0 run to start the second half to extend the lead to 19.  Sheals would score nine in the quarter and the Bucs defense limited the Panthers to just one field goal and eight points total as they extended the lead to 39-20 after three periods.
It was more of the same in the final stanza, as Sheals added eight more, Tia Dobson finished two steals with layups and Samantha Lecas hit a three as Mainland went up by 53-20 before Stevenson hit Gateway’s first points of the quarter with a three-pointer with 2:53 remaining in the game.
Mainland would dominate the boards in the game, out-rebounding the Panthers 38-19.  Twenty of those rebounds were offensive, leading to multiple second chance points.
Despite the loss, the Panthers finished the season with a lot of firsts — including 24 wins, the first regional title in school history and the first Final Four appearance.  “I will take a Final Four loss with this team any time against a team that had two Division transfer join their program this year,” Gateway Coach Justin Marino said.  “We had a team that fought like crazy this year and continued to build the legacy we are creating,  Tonight we ran into a team that simply was bigger, faster and stronger than we were.  But it takes nothing away from what Gateway accomplished this year.”
Gateway returns its entire roster next year, except its lone senior Diaz. “It’s our only loss but a big one,” Marino said.  “She has been the backbone of this program for four years and will be tough to replace,”