After both teams won their semifinals with decisive defensive performances, Friday’s Jaguar Holiday Tournament championship game between undefeated Plant and one-loss Carrollwood Day promised to be a battle.
And in the first quarter, that’s exactly what it was.
The Patriots used height to their advantage, blocking shots and being physical inside. Plant coach Carrie Mahon had to rethink her team’s strategy.
“We said stop going in there, because somebody’s going to get hurt,” she said. “We talked a lot about shooting after a few reversals, and the only we were going to penetrate was to dish to our post that was inside.”
So since they weren’t having any luck inside, the Panthers (11-0) went outside. And from there, they couldn’t be stopped.
Led by Honor Culpepper’s six 3-pointers, Plant rode sharp shooting from behind the arc to a 68-42 victory against Carrollwood Day and a tournament championship. Culpepper and Plant guard Nyla Jean were named to the all-tournament team, and guard Sydney Johnson was selected most valuable player.
After the first quarter, the Patriots led by a point. But when the second began and Culpepper started shooting, she couldn’t seem to miss. The sophomore hit three 3-pointers in a row, and Carrollwood Day (14-2) took a timeout.
“I just felt like this was an important game. I had a lot of adrenaline,” Culpepper said. “When I made two, I was like, ‘All right, this is going to be good.’ So I kept shooting.”
Later in the second quarter, Johnson joined in on the fun. Culpepper led the Panthers with 22 points, while Johnson chipped in 17. The Panthers combined for 12 3-pointers.
“We’ve been shooting a lot this week together,” Johnson said of Culpepper. “She’s like my little sister, so when one of us plays well, the other usually plays well, too. It’s pretty cool.”
After the break, there were more where that came from.
The Patriots continued to swat shots inside, so Plant continued to look outside. Of the Panthers eight field goals in the third quarter, six of them were from three. By the time they started cooling off in the fourth, it was too late for Carrollwood Day to make a comeback.
Mahon credits the victory to her team’s unselfishness. When things weren’t working, she said, they worked together to find a solution, even if that meant making an extra pass. Now with their tournament championship in tow, the Panthers will go into the new year unbeaten.
It’s a good feeling, Mahon said, but one that comes with an extra challenge.
“We’re definitely excited, but now we’ve got a target on our back,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of teams waiting for us in the second half of the season.”