The Buccaneers' improbable run in the 2020 regional tournament has come to an end.
Going into the 2020 FHSAA Class 6A-Region 1 tournament, Mainland girls basketball coach Brandon Stewart taught his team to expect to win.
The Buccaneers, after losing 63-40 to Wekiva in the district championship on Feb. 7, entered the tournament as an eighth seed.
They faced No. 1 seed Lincoln on Feb. 13, but the Buccaneers didn’t believe they were the underdogs.
“We really were not an 8th-seed team, so we’ve never had an 8th-seed mindset,” Stewart said. “When we stepped on the court, we knew that we were coming out as a great basketball team.”
The Buccaneers throttled Lincoln 63-49. They were the FHSAA’s only regional No. 8 seed — of its six non-rural classifications — to survive the first round.
“Not to be overconfident, but I told my girls that we’ll be back. It’s always an optimistic mindset. We’re going to do everything in our power to get our girls ready and more equipped for next year, so when we get there, it’s a different outcome.”
BRANDON STEWART, Mainland girls basketball coach
The Buccaneers also beat No. 4 seed Creekside 68-61 on Feb. 18 in the regional semifinals to reach their first Elite Eight in 18 years.
With a shot at the Final Four on the line, the Buccaneers faced a familiar foe: Wekiva, this time a No. 2 seed.
It was a close game for much of the first three quarters. The contest was tied after the first period, and the Buccaneers were down 5 after the first half. Mainland took its first lead after a transition 3-pointer put the Buccaneers up 39-38 with 4:47 to play in the third quarter.
Then the Mustangs went on a 13-3 run.
Wekiva ended Mainland’s improbable tournament run with a 76-59 victory the night of Friday, Feb. 21, at Wekiva High School.
Senior guard Delayna Gillard led the Buccaneers (13-12) with a team-high 20 points, and junior forward Isys Grady chipped in 18 points.
It was only Gillard’s fourth game of the year. She missed much of the season due to two torn ligaments in her left ankle and a high-ankle sprain.
“For me it was another trip,” said Gillard, who won a state title at Spruce Creek in 2018. “I know what it’s like to be the underdog. I was cool, calm and collected. I gave everything I had. It just wasn’t enough.”
Grady, who also missed time earlier this season with a concussion, said she was proud of her team — despite the loss.
“All the girls on the team played a really good game,” she said. “We just had to execute toward the end of the game. We had to keep fighting.”
The loss will serve as motivation for next year’s run at the state championship.
“Not to be overconfident, but I told my girls that we’ll be back,” Stewart said. “It’s always an optimistic mindset. We’re going to do everything in our power to get our girls ready and more equipped for next year, so when we get there, it’s a different outcome.”