By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
ENGLEWOOD — Tails does sometimes fail.
That’s what Lemon Bay High School girls basketball coach Mike Young was banking on when he called “heads” in a coin flip to decide whether or not his team would have homecourt advantage in the opening round of District 7A-10 tournament.
Young’s Manta Rays finished the regular season with a 5-7 record in district play, tied with Port Charlotte for the No. 4 seed, and a chance to host the quarterfinal game. The tiebreaker to decide which team would be traveling to the other’s gym was a coin flip.
“Our team is really hyped about it. We’re really glad we got the coin flip,” Lemon Bay guard Lauren Maheu said. “We’re hoping we can take advantage of being home to get a lot of support out there. I think it’s vital for our success. We’re dependent on a good start to our game, so we need the energy.”
It was more than just a coin flip that put the Manta Rays in position to host a playoff game, though. The growth and emergence of Breanna Nelson and Maheu played a major roll, too.
Maheu averaged one assist, one rebound and three points per game game last season. She also was a 50 percent shooter from the foul line and made 14 of 60 3-pointers.
Now as a junior, Maheu is averaging 8.6 points per game, is shooting 70 percent from the line and already has made 36 3-pointers on the season.
“It was a hard process for her at the beginning of the year,” Young said of Maheu’s role as starting point guard. “She was pass-first and wasn’t taking shots. She’s anticipating now. Takes shots when’ she’s opening
“She’s tripled her free-throw attempts from last year. She has the confidence to keep shooting when she missed.”
Nelson is a senior captain who’s been playing at the varsity level since her sophomore year.
Last year, she was averaging 4.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, 0.5 assists per game and was shooting 50 percent from the line. Now, Nelson is scoring 7.5 points for game to go with 5.0 rebounds, 4.0 steals and 2.5 assists per game. She also raised her percentage at the line to 65.
“She went from defensive-stopper to now she can handle the ball and is looking for offense,” Young said of Nelson. “She really enjoys guarding the best team’s player and doesn’t want to come off the floor. You can count on her with her effort every night.”
But it wasn’t a smooth ride the entire season for both of them.
“It’s been tough at times, but we got over the tough times together,” Nelson said. “We pushed through it and became closer as a team and our chemistry got better and we started to win more games.”
A slow start to the season for Maheu and Nelson could be attributed to them both being volleyball players. But as the chemistry grew with their teammates, so did their performances.
Maheu is averaging close to 12 points a game over the second half of the season, and Nelson’s five rebounds a game are good enough for second-best on the team.
The Manta Rays split a pair of games against the Pirates this season, but past performance doesn’t matter much to Young, as he likes to remind: “Everybody has the same record starting Tuesday.”
Seed: No. 1
District record: 11-1
First game: 7 p.m. Wednesday vs.Lemon Bay/Port Charlotte winner
Outlook: The Tarpons rolled through the district portion of their schedule in the regular season, with only a slight stumble in one game toward the end of the year. They earned the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye, and should use that homecourt advantage for a title.
Seed: No. 5
District record: 5-7
First game: 7 p.m. Tuesday at Lemon Bay
Outlook: The Pirates split a pair of games against the Manta Rays with five points combined separating the two in those games. The home team won both regular-season matchups, so theoretically that should be advantage Lemon Bay. Whoever wins will have a tall task in the semifinals, as both of them went 0-2 against Charlotte, which awaits the winner.
Seed: No. 4
District record: 5-7
First game: 7 p.m. Tuesday vs. Port Charlotte
Outlook: Read: Port Charlotte
Seed: No. 2
District record: 2-2
First game: 7 p.m., today vs. Riverdale
Outlook: The Bobcats need just one victory for a regional playoff berth. They already beat Riverdale twice in the regular season, and shouldn’t have any problems until facing Gulf Coast for the championship.