Lely and Naples had played twice during the regular season, with the Trojans posting a pair of double-digit victories.
Naples girls basketball coach Dave Walker switched his defense for Saturday’s rematch in the District 4A-12 championship game, and the results paid off.
The Golden Eagles played tough defense the entire way in building an early lead, but had to rally from a seven-point fourth-quarter hole to defend its district title. Kendra Kobza’s 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds remaining gave the Golden Eagles a thrilling 35-34 victory.
Naples advances to the regional quarterfinals and will host Dunbar on Thursday. On that same night, Lely travels to South Fort Myers in another regional quarterfinal game.
“We changed things up on (Lely) and the girls really bought into the defense and executed it well,” Walker said. “We played tough man defense on their top two scorers (Chelsie Dangler and Victoria Howard) and a zone behind that, and it seemed to get them off their game.”
Still, the Golden Eagles needed a rally to get the win.
“We were playing well defensively, but we just couldn’t get our shots to go in,” Kobza said. “Down the stretch, we just had to bear down on defense. We forced some mistakes and we hit some big shots, especially Aimee (Osceola).”
Osceola hit back-to-back jumpers which cut a seven-point deficit to three.
“In big games like this, you’re going to go through peaks and valleys,” Walker said. “Many times during the season, we couldn’t recover when we fell behind, but tonight, the girls dug deep and got it done.”
Lely coach Nick Young blamed himself for the loss, giving his young squad credit for battling back from an early deficit.
“Tonight, I got outcoached by Dave Walker,” Young said. “... They changed their defense and gave us looks we were unprepared for. I can’t fault the effort of our girls, they fought hard.”
Naples slowed the tempo in the first half, building a 7-2 lead after one quarter with a patient offense and a tight defense. Kobza scored five of the seven first-quarter points and finished with a game-high 14.
The Golden Eagles continued to grind it out in the second quarter and led 18-15 at halftime.
Naples maintained its advantage before Howard converted a putback at the buzzer to give Lely its first lead of the game, 25-23, through three quarters. Howard finished with 10 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
The Titans extended the lead to 32-25 as Dangler and Heather Chairez went a combined 6-for-6 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.