LAKELAND — Lennard High boys basketball coach Danny Gaddis stared in disbelief at the scoreboard, over and over, inside The Lakeland Center on Friday.
The long journey, his team’s miraculous season, was coming to an end, and there was nothing he could do to stop it.
Lake Minneola, the No. 2-ranked team in the Class 6A state poll, eliminated the Longhorns, 74-42, in the state semifinals, dashing Lennard’s hopes for the first state title in school history.
The Lake County high school will play No. 1 Miami Norland in today’s championship game.
Lennard, unranked the entire season, finished 25-5 and captured its first district and region championship.
Perhaps more bewildering than the score was the manner in which Lennard lost. Lake Minneola led by as many as 35 points in the third quarter, enacting an automatic running clock per the state’s 35-point mercy rule, and scored 31 points off 25 Longhorns turnovers.
“Those who have seen us play, that’s not our typical game,” Gaddis said. “We just happened to have our worst game, in life, in the state semifinal game.”
Lake Minneola collected 18 steals and scored 56 points under the basket, mostly by Anthony Brown, who led the Hawks (28-3) with 27 points and five steals. Avery Brown, Anthony’s twin brother, added 19 points and six steals.
The Hawks led 47-23 at halftime.
“They are as good as advertised,” Gaddis said.
Lennard couldn’t find a rhythm offensively with its top two scorers — Caelen Watts and Gary Hector — getting into foul trouble early. Watts was called for his fourth foul and Hector his third in the second quarter. Hector finished with 10 points and six rebounds. Watts, who sat the majority of the third quarter, had four points.
“I rolled the dice,” Gaddis said. “They were in foul trouble, and that’s coaching 101, two fouls in the first half and I let (Watts) get four quick. Senior guard, I rolled the dice, but we needed it, and the same with (Hector). I let him get in foul trouble.”
Junior Diontae Johnson led Lennard with 11 points.
“Coming out, there was a little bit of nerves, but then we settled down and everything we were shooting, it was like a lid on top of the rim, so nothing was falling for us,” said Watts, who entered the game averaging 18.3 points. “On a usual day it’s falling, but today wasn’t our day.”
Despite the lopsided loss, Lennard’s student fans cheered on their feet to the final buzzer.
“It means a lot to us to show how much they love us, just as a person,” Watts said.
Until this season, Lennard’s basketball program had never won a postseason game.
“We’re not hanging our heads,” Gaddis said. “We accomplished a lot, coming from Lennard High School in little Ruskin.”