Despite the loss, the Lakers will participate in the regional playoffs next week for the first time as a program.
WINTER GARDEN It seems the Foundation Academy Lions and the Windermere Prep Lakers girls basketball teams cannot play one another without having the game come down to the wire.
For a third time this season, a meeting between the two teams was decided by three points or less.
And, for a third time this season, it was the Lions (9-15) emerging victorious — except this 47-44 win Jan. 28 happened to come in the final of the Class 3A, District 5 Tournament.
"We've played them three times and it's been hard every single time," Foundation head coach Dejon Everson said. "I tip my hat to (Windermere Prep coach Rebecca Dyer) because she's a great coach. My players pulled it out and I'm happy for them."
The contest was close from start to finish. The Lions led by two points at the half and just one point at the end of the third quarter, with Windermere Prep taking the lead briefly in both the third and fourth quarters.
Foundation was led by a team-high 15 points from Dani Lord, who was battling bronchitis. As a result, she did not play her usual minutes in order to keep fresh down the stretch.
"Today I was super tired all game," Lord said afterward. "It meant a lot that we won because my teammates all stepped up."
Whitney Blanchette chipped in 12 points for the Lions, also.
Though Windermere Prep (9-12) did not emerge victorious, the district tournament has still marked an important achievement for the Lakers. Under first-year coach Rebecca Dyer, Windermere Prep has advanced to the regional playoffs for the first time as a program after winning in the district semifinal Jan. 26.
"What I told them in the locker room after the game is 'this is the first time we've been here — this is the first time we've done this as a program in school history,'" Dyer said. "I told them 'you should hang your hats on this and be so proud.'"
The Lakers were led by another strong effort from the young roster's only senior, Kelly Rowswell. Rowswell, who earlier this season scored a school-record 43 points, recorded a game-high 26 points Thursday night in the program's first appearance in a district championship.
"Kelly is an unreal athlete — she is a kid who doesn't come around very often," Dyer said.
Both teams will play in the regional quarterfinals of the Class 3A State Tournament Feb. 4. Foundation will host the runner-up from District 6, while Windermere Prep will hit the road to take on that district's champion. Regardless of the outcome, Dyer is proud of her team and the foundation they have laid for the program's future.
"From Oct. 28 to Jan. 28, the growth that this team has shown and the sacrifices they have made are unreal," Dyer said. "To do what they've done in four months is incredible."
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].
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