With team leader Tasha Rich sidelined with an injured knee, the Lady Lakewood Leopards couldn’t get into their normal high performance groove, which gave East Columbus the edge they needed to end Lakewood’s run for the championship. Lakewood, the No. 2 seed, lost 58-54 in the third round on Friday night to the third-ranked Lady Gators.
Senior forward Tasha Rich bruised the bone in her knee on Wednesday in the Leopard’s second round win against Rosewood. She was forced to sit out the second half of that game and all of Friday night’s competition.
“We had a great run, but it is what it is. The season’s over,” Lakewood’s head coach Lofton Kerr said, with disappointment and frustration showing on his face.
“We started off flat. We picked it up a little, but it was too little too late,” he added.
He agreed that Tasha’s injury made a difference in the team. “Her leadership on the court, a lot of rebounds she normally gets, and her scoring, yes that would have made a difference in the outcome, I think,” Coach Kerr assessed.
The Leopards played their full court press game, but it didn’t seem to bother the Lady Gators of East Columbus, who managed to get free and under the goal for the shot most of the time.
Lakewood tried to rush their offense and threw away a lot of chances for points with full court passes that went out of bounds.
There was hustle from both teams, but the Lady Gators were able to hit the mark more often than the Leopards, especially from the free throw line. East Columbus shot 15 of 34 while Lakewood hit 9 of 16.
In the first quarter, Lakewood was down 12-16. They went on a rally about midway the second quarter and got to within 2 points, 21-23, but stole the ball twice in a row only to throw it away each time.
At halftime the Gators were up by 3 points, 27-24.
The Leopards just couldn’t get that go-ahead spark in the second half, and at the beginning of the fourth quarter the Lady Leps were down by 10, 32-42.
With less than a minute left in the game, they had pulled to within 3 points, 49-52, and the fans were on their feet, but the ball just wouldn’t fall for them.
The final score was 54-58.
Leopard Kiara Rich scored a game high 21 points with 9 of those points from beyond the 3-point line; she also grabbed 5 rebounds. Tiesha Rich had a hard-fought 14 points, plus 13 rebounds; and Bianca Moore scored 11.
Brittney Boykin, who was scoring in the teens until midway the season scored her 2 points in the first quarter. Jache’ Servance put 2 on the board and pulled down 4 rebounds; Jakyra Braxton and Swazay Marable each scored 2 points, as well.
The Leopards ended the season 27-2. They’ve gone two years without losing to a conference team and this season their only loss during the regular season was to 4A Laney in the MLK basketball jam held at Union High in January.
Lakewood’s nemisis in the Tri-County conference, James Kenan, also lost on Friday. No. 1 seed Lejuene took the fifth ranked Tigers out with a score of 58-49.