The Lake Wales Highlanders chose a good night to end a slump last Tuesday (Jan. 8) and now they are in the thick of the battle to win a district title.
Lake Wales had lost five games in a row but came through under pressure to beat Poinciana 63-61 at Highlander Gym with a balanced attack.
The win improved the Highlanders to 9-8 overall after losing five in a row. The Highlanders played seven games in a row on the road, including a holiday swing to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and are 0-5 on neutral floors this season.
In Class 6A, District 8 Lake Wales is 6-2. Winter Haven is 5-1 and Poinciana stands 5-2. Those three teams will finish first, second and third in the final regular-season standings, but the order will be determined by how they do the rest of the way.
LWHS finishes its season with an important game at Winter Haven on Jan. 24. And Poinciana still has to play at Winter Haven. Lake Wales and Poinciana have split with each team winning at home.
The final district standings are important because it is a seven-team district and two teams will go to the state playoffs. Whoever wins the district title gets a first-round bye in the district tournament and has to win only one game to go to state.
The second- and third-place finishers have to play an opening game and then play each other with the winner moving on and the loser going home.
A 3-point shot by Railond Garrett was the winning basket for the Highlanders in Tuesday’s game. The Eagles had a 61-60 lead when Garrett knocked down his second 3-pointer of the game.
Both teams had a chance to score after that, and both teams missed on the front end of a one-and-one. Two desperations shots by Poinciana in the closing seconds were off.
“We’ll take wins wherever we can get them,” said Lake Wales coach Randy Lee. “It is important for us to protect our house. This was a big one for us in a lot of ways.”
All five starters scored in double figures for the Highlanders. They were led by Shaka McGriff with 15 points. Marcus Walker scored 12, Savonte Frazier 11 and Darion State and Garrett 10 each.
“For us to be good, we have to have at least a three or four-pronged scoring attack,” Lee noted. “We have a lot of guys who want to step up.”
Teamwork can be a challenge for the Highlanders.
“The only thing that matters is making sure we stay together as a group. When we’re individuals, we are an OK team. But when we play together we’re pretty good,” Lee continued.
It was a game of spurts with Poinciana leading through most of the first quartet and holding a 17-13 advantage going into the second period. Then the Highlanders went on a 20-10 run in the second quarter and had a 33-27 lead at halftime.
The third quarter belonged to the Eagles and after three periods the score was tied at 46-all. In the fourth period, Poinciana had a slight edge and was on top by three with two minutes to go. Frazier made a basket to trim the difference to one and Garrett was open for his 3-pointer to put LWHS over the top.
“We didn’t play great tonight,” Reed observed, “but we played well enough to win.”