Academy girls run out of time in district championship

Scott Shook

The Marco Island Academy's district championship dreams turned into a roller coaster ride Thursday night in the Everglades City gym. When the ride was over, the Marco girls were on the short end of a 41-38 score.

The academy dominated Seacrest early, leading 8-2 at the end of the first quarter. The academy's lead grew to 12-2 before Seacrest came alive.

Seacrest outscored the academy by the same 12-2 margin when they hit a lay-up at the buzzer to go into halftime tied 14-14.

Seacrest took their first lead at 18-16 with 6:14 left in the third quarter and never trailed again. With 3:00 left in the fourth quarter the academy found themselves down 39-26.

At that point academy head coach Greg Fowler had his team come out in a full court press that turned things around.

"The girls worked hard and caused some turnovers out there," Fowler said.

Jessica Ragan hit a two-pointer to bring the score to 39-33 with 1:09 left, then hit a free throw to make it 39-34 with 26.4 second remaining in the game.

Captain Victoria Vale, who led the way with 16 points, brought the academy to 40-36 with a 12-footer with 11.8 remaining. She then intentionally fouled the Seacrest's Cate Stiffler, who made one of two free throws to make it 41-36. Stiffler led Seacrest with 16 points, including 9-11 from the free throw line. Marco's Shannon O'Reagan hit a basket as time expired to bring the Rays within three.

"Three points from a district title is a big deal for us," Fowler said with pride. "The best season in school history. The girls played their hearts out. They worked as hard as you can expect anybody to work. The progress we made this year is tremendous."

The girls will play at least one more game when they hit the road for a regional playoff game next Thursday.