LARGO — The Largo High School girls basketball team started the season-opening match against Thomas Stone with a 15-0 scoring run, a clear indication of how the remainder of the evening would go for the Lady Lions.
An integral part of Largo’s early scoring run was the lights-out shooting of guard Vanessa Schwarzmann, who shot 6-of-8 from the three-point line to finish with a game-high 21 points to lead the Lady Lions to an easy 61-33 season-opening home win over Thomas Stone on Dec. 13.
“Coming into the first game of the season, I knew that my team needed me and I’m one of the main players on the team,” Schwarzmann said.
Schwarzmann, a junior, also had three rebounds and three assists. As a returning starter and upperclassman, she plans to take on the responsibility of being a team leader.
“I need to score at least 15-plus a game, and I need to get the ball to my post players in the paint,” she said.
Despite the near 30-point blow-out win, Head Coach Ayana Ball-Ward was not notably impressed with how her girls played. She said the win was by an “ugly 30” rather than something to boast in.
“I thought we looked very sloppy, but it’s the first game out of season so I expected that,” Ball-Ward said.“We have a lot that we need to complete and work on and fine-tune.”
Ball-Ward said she felt Largo (1-0) played down to its competition, missing multiple layups and free throws in addition to some unforced turnovers. The 15th-year head coach said her team will need “to clean it up” if Largo hopes to make a run in the state playoffs as it did last season, finishing as runner-up in the 1A title game.
Most of Largo’s guards were backups to seniors last season but are now relied upon to take on different roles this year, Ball-Ward said, which will take time to materialize. Since it was only the first game, Ball-Ward said she was not too troubled about the small miscues.
The Lions edged the Cougars (0-3) on the glass 31-28, led by centers Billie Johnson and Kayla Watkins-Harvey, who combined for 20 points and 18 rebounds for Largo.
The height disparity in favor of Largo proved to be the difference besides Schwarzmann’s phenomenal shooting. The Lions outscored Thomas Stone 15-1 in the first quarter and 20-7 in the third quarter. Watkins-Harvey and Johnson, who both stand taller than six feet, used their size to get easy baskets down low and protect the rim on the defensive end to help Largo to the comfortable win.
Johnnae Matthews was big for Largo early on. The guard recorded 10 points and two steals.
In contrast to Ball-Ward, Thomas Stone Head Coach Tynisha Payton was proud of her team’s effort in spite of the sizable loss.
“I’m not really looking at the fact that we lost, I’m looking at the fact of whether or not my girls were able to compete,” Payton said. “My girls fought from the beginning to the end. We had our spurts, but we got down a little bit. For the most part, I’m proud of the way that they competed.”
According to Payton, the Cougars are a young team. She said teamwork would be a major point of emphasis for Stone throughout the year.
“One of the things we look at this season is playing team basketball. That’s one of the things that we’re working on,” Payton said. “We’re a young squad. That’s something that we’re embedding. It’s early in the season, so we can only go up from here.”
Not only were the Cougars at a size disadvantage but were visibly outmanned. Largo had more depth, using 13 of its 14 players. Conversely, Stone rotated its only seven players listed on its roster.
Cerina Cobey scored a team-high 11 and pulled down eight boards to lead Stone. The senior guard partly attributed the loss to Stone’s height and depth disadvantages and felt she and her teammates could have played better fundamental team ball.
Imani Ruff added 10 points and three rebounds for Stone.
“I think it was a pretty good game. In the beginning, we kind of came out slow, but we ended up playing as a team and bringing it back,” Cobey said.“We didn’t win, but in my opinion, we played a pretty good game.”