The Father Lopez girls basketball team will head to the State Semifinals Wednesday, but with bigger goals in mind.
BY MATT MENCARINI | STAFF WRITER
The “Final Four” chant began with 14.2 seconds left in the game and Shannon Cranshaw at the free-throw line.
Cranshaw split those three throws to cap the 69-56 win over University Christian Saturday, Feb. 16, giving the Green Wave a regional championship and advancing to the state semifinals for the first time since 2005, when the current Father Lopez senior class was in fifth grade.
“It’s a great feeling,” Cranshaw said. “It’s a great way to end our season. We’re happy that we’re going to states, but that’s not our goal. Our goal is to win. So we still have some unfinished business left.”
Up next for the Green Wave will be Calvary Christian, from Clearwater, in the first State Semifinal game, 12 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20, at The Lakeland Center, in Lakeland.
The winner will play either Seffner Christian (Seffner) or Miami Country Day, who play in the second semifinal game Feb. 20.
“We’re really excited about the opportunity to get back here,” head coach Brad Ridenour said. “We’ve won our districts all the time, but would run into a McDonald’s All-American or somebody in our region. (It happened) like three or four times when we had really good teams.”
Just one season ago, it was P.K. Yonge, the team the Green Wave beat 62-60 Feb. 12, to advance to the regional finals, and its standout Niya Johnson, who knocked the Green Wave out of the playoffs.
But this time, it was Father Lopez playing spoiler to another team’s season, on the backs of four players who all scored in double digits.
Ashley Folsom led all scorers with 29 points. She also had 17 rebounds, five blocks and three assists. Simone Brown scored 17 points and April Panaggio had 11 points, including two three-pointers,
“(Folsom) has gotten so much better (from last year),” Ridenour said. “She’s so poised. She had a great year and she’s such a great kid.”
Cranshaw scored 10 points and added nine assists, but she struggled to find points most of the game.
She scored three in the first quarter, but was held scoreless until the fourth, when she hit seven of ten free-throws, following foul calls.
“There are times when Shannon isn’t going to get hers,” Ridenour said. “But we have Ashley and Simone, and I thought April Panaggio had a huge (game for us).”
The Green Wave trailed early, but they took the lead toward the end of the first quarter and never relinquished it.
An 8-0 run in the first 3:52 of the third quarter, during which University Christian was forced to take two timeouts, gave Father Lopez the breathing room it needed to simply play its style for rest of the game.
“We recognized mismatches,” Cranshaw said. “I mean, they had nobody who could handle Simone and Ashley in the post and they took advantage and they converted.”
Ridenour noted the poise of Cranshaw, Folsom and Brown at the end of the game, when the three players chewed up the clock on offense and turned possessions into uncontested layups or free throws.