AVON PARK – The Avon Park Red Devils girls basketball team came back from a long Christmas and New Year break to tame the McKeel Wildcats by a score of 69-32 in a Class 5A-District 8 matchup on Tuesday night.

The loss dropped McKeel Academy to 9-6 overall and 0-2, while the win improved Avon Park to 7-2 on the season and 1-1 in the district.

The Red Devil defense, usually aggressive in nature, was more subdued while anticipating what the McKeel offense attempted to accomplish and thwarting their efforts with steals and intercepting passes.

“We did a good job communicating,” said Red Devil team captain Tajenay Vassell. “Waiting and watching to see what they were going to do, we stayed back a little and let them come to us.”

The Red Devils also showed more control on their fast breaks and turnover transitions, often passing the ball forward instead of trying to go the distance on their own to the basket. This was noticeably apparent as Vassell and Dashayla Hawthorne racked up assists and points on those fast breaks.

“We are building the chemistry,” said Vassell. “Getting more people involved and building confidence.”

The game itself started out close with Avon Park holding a two-point lead midway through the first after McKeel’s Layne Darner sank a 3-pointer at 9-7 and later at 11-9.

That was as close as the Wildcats got to the Red Devils, who opened up a seven-point lead at 17-10 before McKeel’s Halie Sanders nailed a 3-pointer to close the gap back to four to end the first quarter with Avon Park leading 17-13.

Avon Park started the second quarter on a 10-2 run with two baskets by Keannia Williams and single buckets by Hawthorne, Vassell and Jayma Houston to open up a a 27-15 advantage.

The Red Devils continued their torrid scoring pace, outscoring the Wildcats 10-5 to finish the second quarter and go into the half with a commanding 37-20 lead.

The Red Devils dominated the second half early, scoring the first 15 points to take a 32-point lead at 52-20. Hawthorne, Vassell and Williams combined for 13 of those points.

Williams controlled the offensive boards, gathering up several rebounds and converting them to baskets as she scored Avon Park’s last eight points of the third quarter and pushed the Red Devil’s to a 62-27 lead heading to the final period.

The 35-point lead initiated the running clock and Avon Park scored seven points in the fourth quarter to McKeel’s five to beat the Wildcats by a score of 69-32.

Darner led the Wildcats with 17 points and had three shots from beyond the arc.

Williams led the Red Devils with a game-high of 22 points. Hawthorne followed with 19 points and a trio of 3-pointers, while Vassell added 18 points in the victory.

Avon Park is on the road tonight at DeSoto. Friday night the Red Devils are at county rival Lake Placid Green Dragons in a district game.

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