By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PUNTA GORDA — It’s not very often a game is decided in the first quarter.
An entire first quarter is even too much time when describing how quickly the Charlotte High School girls basketball team took a decisive hold over Thursday’s game against Lemon Bay.
In just the game’s first five minutes, the Tarpons forced 12 Manta Ray turnovers on the way to building an early 20-2 lead before finishing the night with a 66-29 win.
“Just their overall effort as a team (is what I was pleased with),” Charlotte coach Matt Stephenson said. “They came out and played hard against a tough, physical team. I’m very happy with the way they played tonight.”
Lemon Bay ended the night with 38 turnovers, 23 of which came on straight steals by Charlotte. No Tarpon was a bigger problem defensively for the Manta Rays than Taylor Kirkus, who had four steals in the first quarter to finish with a game-high nine takeaways.
“It’s been troubling every game,” Lemon Bay coach Mike Young said of his team’s turnovers. “It’s something we talk about in practice every day. We practice it and we work on how to carry the basketball. It’s something we have to correct. That’s the difference in about four or five wins.”
Four different Tarpons scored at least four points in the first quarter, led by Madison Burton, who sank a pair of 3-pointers in the opening period.
One of the few from Charlotte (9-6, 8-0 in District 7A-10) to start slow was Kelyn Moses, who waited until the second quarter for an 11-point outburst, ending the night with a game-best 22 points.
“It’s a special group,” Stephenson said of his starters, who combined for 50 points playing in a limited role with a big lead. “Any one of them on any night can have a big night. They’re a good group of girls.”
The game could have been even more out of hand early on if not for the efforts of Francesca Gallucci, who had all of her 10 points and eight rebounds in the first two quarters.
“Francesca always plays hard,” Young said. “She brings it everyday in practice. She brings it every night. You always know she’s going to work hard. That’s why she’s a captain and a starter as a junior.”
Lemon Bay (8-9, 4-5) was on the verge of facing a running clock – trailing by 35 points – but stayed within a 29 or 33-point deficit for a large portion of the game after its early struggles. It wasn’t until 1:30 was remaining in the game that Charlotte finally reached the 35-point mark.
Kirkus finished with seven points and five rebounds. Burton had nine points. Matisyn Moses came off the bench for eight points. For Lemon Bay, Lauren Maheu had a team-high 11 points.
CHARLOTTE 66, LEMON BAY 29
Lemon Bay 6 12 11 0 — 29
Charlotte 24 20 16 6 — 66
Lemon Bay (29): Lauren Maheu 11, Francesca Gallucci 10, Nelson 3, Mamalis 2, MCGraw 2, Hansen 1. Totals: 10(1) 10-14 29.
Charlotte (66): Kelyn Moses 22, Burton 9, M. Moses 8, Qualls 8, Bunch 7, Kirkus 7, Lamb 5. Totals: 26(4) 10-16 66.