The Dunbar girls basketball team is starting to get that “almost to Lakeland” feeling again.
Led by Respect Leaphart’s 27 points and 14 rebounds, the Lady Tigers fought off a resilient St. Petersburg Lakewood team to earn a 65-56 win in the Region 5A-3 quarterfinals on Thursday night.
“It was a tough game. That’s what it’s supposed to be,” Dunbar coach Dwayne Donnell said. “The team that plays the best five games from here on out is going to be the state champion. We’ve got two more games trying get back to our dream and one of our goals.”
The Tigers can make their fifth straight appearance in the state final four, but first they will head to Bradenton Southeast, 62-38 winners over Cypress Lake in the other quarterfinal, on Tuesday to face the District 5A-11 champions.
St. Petersburg Lakewood, which had lost its district title game on a free throw, entered the James Stephens Gymnasium with a chip on its shoulders. The Trojans never led in the game, but through the first half, they chipped away at Dunbar’s lead.
“Our kids got through a little bit of adversity there,” Donnell said.
Leaphart sparked an 8-0 run with a three-point shot. On the ensuing play, Amarias Mejia stole the ball and quickly fed it to Leaphart, who made a layup, drew a foul, and made the free throw for a three-point play.
Dekeriya Patterson capped off the run with a layup. The Trojans did not close the scoring deficit to single figures after that third-quarter run.
“We weren’t very effective against them in the press. They were getting to our basket,” Donnell said. “I think our man-to-man really turned it up.”
The Lady Tigers had to adjust to playing much of the second half without forward Ja’Miah Bland. After committing her fourth foul, she sat on the bench until midway through the fourth quarter. Still, she managed a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds.
“One player down, we’ve got to fill it in,” Leaphart said. “We’ve got to get it together. That doesn’t stop the game because one player got into foul trouble. You can’t stop the game; you’ve got to go harder.”
Patterson scored 14 points.