Mariner came out hungry early and devoured Lemon Bay 72-43 in the Region 5A-3 quarterfinals Thursday night.
The Tritons used a full-court press and tenacious defense to build a quick 16-4 lead just three minutes into the game, opening a 26-6 advantage at the first quarter break.
"Coach told us to come out strong in the first four minutes, and that's what we did," said Rodney Hunter, who led all scorers with 34 points.
The game was never really close after that as the Tritons outscored the Manta Rays in the first three quarters. A running clock went into effect when Mariner scored to make it 70-35 with 6:52 left in the fourth quarter.
"We've struggled in the past, but now we're getting into a groove," said Mariner coach James Harris. "It was great to start out the game so well. We got on a roll and got some easy baskets."
The Tritons like to play at a fast-paced tempo, and that's exactly what Lemon Bay did. The Tritons had more fire-power on offense, especially the slashing, drive-the-lane movements by Hunter. Many of his baskets were made driving and gliding between two defenders.
One other bright spot for the Tritons was the play of reserve Qwameek Shields, who came off the bench to score 13 points.
"He gave us a spark right before halftime, and then hit those two treys early in the third quarter," Harris said. "Here's a kid that busted his tail to get a 3.5 (G.P.A.) last semester in order to be eligible for the second semester. That's what Mariner is all about-giving kids opportunities."
The Rays were led by Ryan Straub with 10 points.
The Tritons (20-8) advance to the region semifinals on Tuesday and travel to Sebring, which knocked off Cape Coral 63-45 Thursday night.
Lemon Bay 6 16 12 9 - 43
Mariner 26 18 21 7 - 72
Lemon Bay (43) - Clary 4, Garza 6, DeLorenzo 4, Straub 10, McGill 5, Hill 4, Jackson 7, Reigle 3. Totals: 12 16-26 72. 3PG: 3.
Mariner (72) - Hunter 34, Carpenter 5, K. Darrett 8, Davis 2, Deems 6, I. Darrett 4, Shields 13. Totals: 31 5-11 72. 3PG: 5.