St. Cloud’s improbable run towards the Final Four continues.
Starting four sophomores, the Lady Bulldogs (20-8) got a layup from Danigzy Mantilla with 13 seconds remaining as the St. Cloud upset second-seeded Lake Gibson (18-9) on the road Tuesday night to advance to the Class 6A, Region 2 Final.
St. Cloud will face top-seeded Wekiva (23-2) on Friday night, where a trip to the Final Four in Lakeland will await the winner.
“It was a wild game tonight. We knew going in that Lake Gibson was a physical team that likes to push their opponent around. They sort of had their way with us in the first quarter, but I thought we did a great job of responding to them,” St. Cloud Coach Chad Ansbaugh said. “We are good perimeter team and play pretty good defense, but we’re not very big and you could say we’re a little soft. But that was not the case tonight. You can’t be soft and come on the road and beat a team like Lake Gibson. I was so proud of our team’s effort tonight.”
The Bulldogs got off to a slow start, missing their first five shots and falling behind 8-0 at the start. Despite turning the ball over 12 times in the first half, St. Cloud managed to catch fire in the second quarter – cutting the gap to three at the half, 29-26.
Sophomore Emily Lockey played a huge role in keeping St. Cloud in striking distance, scoring 10 points in the second quarter.
St. Cloud would make their run in the third quarter. Although center Haley Collins would pick up fourth foul midway through the period, she – along with Kennedy Johnson and Lockey – would all hit three-pointers as the Bulldogs forged ahead 41-39 after three.
The fourth quarter would be a see-saw affair. Three-pointers by Lockey and Collins would give St. Cloud a 52-46 lead, but Honesti Jones hit a three and Arnia O’Neal got a layup after a turnover as the Braves stormed back to within one at 52-51.
While attempting to run down the clock, St. Cloud would throw an ill-advised pass into the lane that Wilson picked off and drove the length of the court for a layup and a 53-52 lead with 29 seconds remaining.
But Mantilla’s heroics would save day for St. Cloud.
After getting the ball past half-court, Mantilla swept past her defender and drove the baseline – where she made the layup over Wilson for the 54-53 lead. On the ensuing possession, Lake Gibson would miss a shot and Mantilla would scramble on the floor for the loose ball – eventually tying up a Braves player. With the possession arrow pointing toward the visitors, St. Cloud got the ball. Mantilla would then be fouled with 1.3 seconds left and would hit the front end of a one-on-one for the final margin of victory.
“When I got past my defender, I knew I had a chance for either a layup or to dish the ball to an open teammate,” Mantilla said. “She (Wilson) was a split second late coming off her man and that allowed me enough time to make the shot.”
Lockey would lead all scorers in the game with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Taniya Brown led Lake Gibson with 15, while Wilson – who came into the game averaging almost 18 points a game for Lake Gibson– was held to 11. “That was huge for us,” Ansbaugh said. “Wilson is a terrific player who has absolutely dominated opponents this year. To hold her down was a big key for us.”
Three-point shooting was again a key for St. Cloud.
After making just two of eight attempts in the first quarter, the Bulldogs ended up finding the range and make 11 for the game. “We’re always going to shoot 25 or 30 a game,” Ansbaugh said. “We started off cold, but they started going down for us.”
The road does not get any easier for St. Cloud. Wekiva is ranked second in the state in Class 6A and has won their four post-season games by an average of 17 points and their only two losses this season has been to Florida State University High, the 3rd ranked team in Class 3A and to Pinkerton Central, the seventh ranked team in all of Ohio. That game is Friday night at Wekiva.
Osceola County has one other girls’ team still alive in the state tournament. Gateway (22-7) got an at-large bid as the sixth seed into the Class 5A, Region 2 Tournament and upset both Lake Weir (59-31) in the first round and 2nd seeded Wesley Chapel (51-37) in Tampa on Tuesday night to earn a trip to the Elite Eight, where they will play 5th seeded Bishop Moore (21-6) in the Regional Final.