LARGO – For Largo senior point guard Stephanie Guihon, one word came to mind when trying to describe the difference between last year's championship-winning squad and this year’s team: resiliency.
In a game the Lady Lions might have lost last year, Guihon outdueled Crossland point guard Katelyn Canlas to secure a hard-fought 62-50 victory during the 2A regional quarterfinals Monday night.
Guihon led the way for the Lions with 25 points, as she converted 15-of-19 shots from the free throw line. Guihon battled with Canlas on every possession and found her rhythm by setting up her teammates with no-look passes and scoring at will with deadly floaters through double-teams in the paint. Canlas finished the game with 24 points and scored her 1,000th career point in the process, but it wasn’t enough to covercome the Lions.
“Stephanie has been big for us all season,” said Largo Head Coach Ayana Ball-Ward. “She has been one of the most consistent players that we have had, even throughout our injury stretch. For her to continue to play strong and put the team on her back is big for us.”
Crossland jumped out of the gates quickly and tried to assert its dominance inside as it forced Largo to take an early timeout with just over four minutes remaining in the first quarter. Despite getting off to a hot start, it was the last time the Cavaliers held the lead the rest of the night.
After the timeout, the Lions went on a 4-0 run and slowly gained momentum as the quarter came to a close. Crossland cut the deficit to one point late in the second, but Largo managed to go on a 5-0 run until Canlas nailed a floater in traffic to stop the bleeding. Largo finished the half with a 32-27 lead.
“(Canlas) is definitely a threat on the floor, and she is in our scouting report,” Ball-Ward said about Canlas being an unstoppable offensive weapon. “She is hard to contain and for her to get 24 points, she worked for every last one of them. She is hard to contain and that's just what she is.”
Just when it looked as if Largo was reeling and slowly losing its composure at the end of the first half, junior small forward Tania White lit up the scoreboard with a flurry of shots from beyond the arc to start the second half with a bang.
White, who finished the game with 16 points (four three-pointers), nailed two back-to-back triples from the left corner and forced the Cavaliers to recollect with a timeout.
“When I hit them I knew that my team needed something to start a run and I knew that they depended on me to hit the three,” White said. “When they kept passing me the ball I knew that I had the confidence in me to knock them down.”
Although the second half was riddled with fouls and sloppy offensive play on both sides, Largo never slowed up, and the Cavaliers only managed to get as close as 10 points.
Guihon was masterful at the charity stripe and the Lions never gave their opponent an opportunity to dethrone the reigning 2A South Champions.
“We tell our team all of the time that free throws win games,” Ball-Ward said. “It can come down to a one-point game, but if we hit our free throws, it can make the difference. Stephanie has done a lot to focus on her free throw shooting over the years, so I'm proud of her.”
Guihon expected to get to the line and was ready to knock them down.
“Coming into the game I knew I was going to get to the free throw line a lot and that I had to convert,” Guihon said. “A lot of things were against us, so we had to come together to be able to get these wins. In order for the team to get started, I have to get started myself. We need to tighten up our defense moving forward if we want a shot at the championship.”
Even though Largo cruised to a 67-point victory against Friendly in the first round of the playoffs and orchestrated a convincing win over Crossland, the road will only get more bumpy moving forward. The Lions will travel to Brandywine to take on Gwynn Park on March 1.