JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Bishop Kenny’s girls basketball team liked Lakeland so much last year that it decided to go back.
The Crusaders survived the brutal Region 1-4A that was stuffed with local contenders, outlasting host Raines 53-47 on Friday night to earn a spot in the state semifinals.
Kenny (21-9) will face Cocoa in the 4A state semis on Thursday at noon in Lakeland. The Crusaders were state runners-up last season.
They are the only team from the First Coast remaining. University Christian fell in the Region 1-2A final, 62-50, to Tallahassee Florida A&M.
For Raines, the No. 1 team in the News4Jax Super 6 most of the season, it was a rough way to finish. The Vikings (28-2) entered on a 25-game winning streak, with their only other loss coming in a 61-56 game to Lincoln on Nov. 26.
But the logjam — four Super 6 teams were in the eight-team region — meant that only one area team could make it to Lakeland.
“I have to credit Raines, that was a dogfight, it’s insane that we have to get through one another, Bolles and Ribault as well,” said Kenny coach Charlsea Clark. “I’m really proud of the talent in the area and that was a heck of a team. It’s sad to think someone has to lose that game, but I’m just going to say how proud I am of our girls.”
For the Crusaders, the return trip to Lakeland, site of the state semifinals, was a long, long time in the making. It had been 27 years before Kenny got back to the state semifinals in 2019. To go back-to-back was something else.
Kenny pulled away late, snapping a 42-all tie with an 11-5 close, most of those points coming from the free throw line. Junior Jamia Nesmith had more than half of those.
Kenny’s schedule, which gave it fits in spots during the season, paid off.
“It [the schedule] prepared us for this moment,” said Kenny’s Jasmyne Roberts, who had 23 points. “We were ready for their pressure.”