The Bishop Kenny girls basketball team came so close to dethroning a powerhouse.
The Crusaders gave dynasty Lake Highland Prep everything it could handle on Saturday before falling 55-45 at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland in the Class 4A title game. For Kenny, the perfect ending was within sight before the Highlanders surged back in the final quarter to win their fourth consecutive state championship.
A Jada Eads bucket midway through the final quarter put the Highlanders up 37-35 and they stayed in front the rest of the way, flipping the momentum and handing the Crusaders their third state runner-up finish in five seasons. The Crusaders had led until that point, taking a 32-27 edge into the final quarter. They just couldn’t fend off the Highlanders over the final eight minutes.
Kenny was attempting to win the first championship for an area girls program since Ribault in 2017. Its season ends at 30-2.
Kenny slowed things down and leaned on its fundamentals and defense to frustrate the Highlanders in the opening half. The Crusaders 17-13 at the break and navigated Lake Highland Prep’s momentum well after that. The Highlanders took their first lead early in the fourth quarter on a basket from Eleecia Carter, a 33-32 edge that was brief.
Sophia Rueppell made a bucket and then added a free throw to push Kenny back up 35-33, but the Highlanders closed strong to turn back their closest title game challenge in years.
The Highlanders’ win over Calvary Christian last year was by 18 points.
The Crusaders’ trip to Lakeland was its fifth straight. Each time before, those ended in disappointing fashion. Kenny lost to Plantation American Heritage in the final in 2019 and to Lake Highland Prep in the championship game the following season. The Highlanders ended Kenny’s season in the final four in 2021.
Kenny’s last title came in 1992, the final of Kenny’s historic threepeat under coach Todd Orlando.
Will Mayer replaced Charlsea Clark last year and guided the Crusaders back to Lakeland where they lost to Calvary Christian last year. They’d been the area’s top team in the News4JAX Super 6 all season long and seldom been tested.