The atmosphere was electric in a packed Meridian High School gym as the Lady Mustangs hosted the Lakeland Cavaliers with a trip to the State Finals on the line. The visitors opened the scoring on a shot from Jamauri Demeil in the opening minute, only to not score again until the second quarter as Senior guard Bella Paradiso’s layup sparked a 22-0 run for the Mustangs. Meridian once again set the tone by playing a gritty, aggressive, and focused brand of basketball that created offense from its defense throughout the contest, and it was simply too much for Lakeland to overcome. Disrupting the opponents’ rhythm early and often proved to be the difference as the Cavaliers managed to stop the bleeding following that first quarter avalanche, outscoring the home team by one in the next frame to take a 29-10 deficit into the half. But the damage was done, and the Mustangs only expanded their lead after the halftime break, leading 42-16 after three quarters before cruising to a final score of 65-33.
Senior guard Zoraida Icabalceta led the Mustangs’ offensive attack with 22 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter, while hitting five three-pointers. Junior guard Peyton Jones and Junior forward Elizabeth Creed each poured in 15, while the Cavaliers were led by Kemonye Canady’s nine and Kianna Gray’s eight. Lakeland was limited to only three first half field goals as they struggled to score the ball, and more than half of their points came during the fourth quarter.
In addition to the big win, several Mustangs earned All-Regional recognition, as was announced at halftime. Icabalceta was named Regional Player of the Year while Jones and Creed both joined her on the All-Region First Team, and Bella Paradiso was named to the All-Region Second Team. Additionally, head coach Chris Carrico was named Regional Coach of the Year, leading his squad to a record of 24-1-1 as they head into State Finals.
The Mustangs will face Carroll County High School – also nicknamed the Cavaliers – in the State Finals, which will be played at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center in Richmond on Thursday. Carroll County is 24-1 with their single loss coming back on December 11th.