By REID TUCKER
Winning district titles is practically a non-issue for the Ponce de Leon Lady Pirates.
Top-seeded Ponce de Leon (24-3) demonstrated its time-tested ability to turn in winning performances as it blasted through Baker (11-9) with a 46-19 victory. The Saturday, Feb. 5, win marks the Lady Pirates’ seventh straight District 1-2A championship.
That isn’t to say the game was without hitches: shooting was initially a struggle for both sides as PDL alone scored on just one field goal for around 20 attempts from the floor. This meant the game’s opening salvos were fired primarily from behind the charity stripe until Hillary Harper broke the silence with a 2-pointer with just less than a minute left in the quarter. Despite repeated attempts before and after Harper’s score, PDL held the lead by just 5-2 going into the second quarter.
Ponce de Leon coach Tim Alford chalked it up to nerves. The previous night Harper and team mate Jasmine Flock lead the Pirates with 13 and 14 points, respectively, against Jay on the way to a 60-32 victory over the Royals. PDL lead Jay 40-15 at halftime, a far cry from the 21-15 halftime score against the Gators, who themselves convincingly beat Freeport the night before.
“We were just shooting too quick,” he said. “The moment got the girls a little excited and we just didn’t execute. They were trying hard but maybe it was too hard.”
Alford needn’t have worried though, as the Lady Pirates’ touch warmed up considerably in the second quarter and Harper and Shalea Yates put PDL up 17-6 with 5:28 to go. The Lady Pirates held Baker to nine points for most of the rest of the half but a pair of well-placed 2s from Dannielle Mayhair brought the Gators back within five points. Another 2er from Bethany Chestnut enabled the Gators to close the half down 21-15 to the Pirates.
While Baker seemed to be in a good position to make a comeback in the third, PDL’s defense kept the Gators scoreless in the period. The Pirate offense, led by Yates and Flock, added 15 points in the same interval, all but deciding the game in favor of Ponce de Leon.
Though Mayhair would break the Lady Pirates’ streak with a 2-pointer at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Gators would score just once more in the game. PDL, meanwhile, continued to find the net with regularity if not impunity and ran the score up 49-19 by the end of the game.
Nine of the 14 players on the Pirates bench scored in the showdown with the Lady Gators, but none got out of single digits. Ponce de Leon’s offense was headed by Harper (now with 1,121 career points), Flock and Yates, who each accounted for nine points of PDL’s total. Baker’s leading scorers were Chestnut and Mayhair, who turned in six points apiece.
Alford, in this his 16th season at Ponce de Leon, said he was proud of another big win, in spite of a somewhat lackluster shooting performance. He said Baker’s apparent insistence on letting the Lady Pirates find their range after the first quarter proved to be the home team’s undoing.
“[Baker] played extremely hard but they backed up and let us shoot,” Alford said. “I’m just glad it worked out. Any time you can win, we’re happy and we’re excited. We’re glad regardless. However [the game] came out, we’ll take it.”
Ponce de Leon is set to host District 2-2A runner-up Holmes County on Thursday in a regional quarterfinal contest while Baker will go on the road to face Graceville on the same night.
The Lady Pirates have not been defeated in nine home games this season and, historically speaking, have fallen in only eight of the past 75 home games over the last six seasons. Furthermore, PDL is 31-16 in 18 state playoff appearances.