by Christopher Lawlor
FORT MYERS, Fla. – The great news for third-seeded Paul VI (Chantilly, Va.) is a victory Friday at the GEICO High School Nationals girls’ semifinal.
The Panthers survived overtime to knock off previously unbeaten Lake Highland Prep (Orlando, Fla.), 52-49, at the Suncoast Credit Union Arena. PVI’s Lee Volker sank two free throws with 21.7 seconds left in the extra session and after a timeout the Highlanders had a chance to tie but two missed three-point field goals, the second from Stefanie Ingram at the buzzer ended it.
The second-seeded Highlanders (19-1) had their win streak spanning two seasons snapped at 35 games. LHP was the top-ranked team by several media outlets after winning a second straight Florida Class 4A state championship in February and the United Bank Championship Division title at Myrtle Beach, S.C. before Christmas.
The bad news for PVI is simple: missed free throws (12 of 26) and 21 turnovers. The Panthers can savor this one for a nanosecond before Saturday morning’s title game.
The Panthers used a 5-2 spurt in overtime to clinch. They also forced 28 turnover and the Highlanders only shot 18 of 45 from the floor.
Unsigned senior point guard Bella Perkins had 10 points and four assists; the Duke-bound Volker added 13 points, six rebounds and four steals, junior Alyssa Costigan scored nine points on 3 of 3 shooting and junior forward Jaelyn Talley had a game-high 17 points and six boards before fouling out late.
Louisville-bound junior Nyla Harris posted a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds as did senior forward Kayla Blackshear with 10 points and 12 rebounds. Eleecia Carter dropped in 14 points.
And it was Carter who was money from beyond the arc, forcing overtime by nailing a three to knot the game at 47. PVI’s Costigan scored nine points in the quarter to help take a 47-42 lead but the Highlanders scored the final five points. Fiona Hastick’s long off-balance shot at the buzzer fell short.
Credit the Highlanders’ pressure defense for gaining a 39-36 lead heading into the fourth. Trailing by eight points in the third, the tenaciousness kickstarted a 15-4 run and when Carter, a Central Florida recruit, drained her third 3-pointer with 3 seconds left, the Floridians were back in front.
The 6-foot Talley, who was described by her coach as a “bull in a China closet,” for her aggressively play, produced back-to-back conventional three-point plays for a 32-24 PVI lead. The Highlanders answered as Ingram added a conventional three-point play and Alabama-bound Blackshear did the same with 3:59 left to make it 32-30.
It was a sloppy first half in general with both teams combining for 25 turnovers, including 16 by LHP. The Highlanders took a 10-point lead in the opening minutes of the game only to see the Panthers rally.
The Highlanders went six minutes without a point bridging the first and second quarters. Ingram’s 10-foot baseline jumper with 4:58 left in the second reduced the deficit to 18-16. LHP was up 24-18 late in the half but Talley hit a driving layup and Perkins added a steal and score with 10 seconds left.
Part of PVI’s slow start was their inactivity of live games for 40 days. Coach Scott Allen’s team last played on Feb. 9. With LHP turning the ball over and missing shots (9 of 21), it gave the Panthers ample opportunities to run half court sets and work for open shots. However, PVI shot 8 of 22 from the field.
In the first half, Perkins had eight points and three steals but made five turnover and made only 3 of 10 shots. Talley netted eight points and Volker contributed four points and three boards. PVI’s free throw shooting was subpar at 5 of 10 (50 percent).
LHP was outscored 14-7 in the paint but Carter had eight points and three rebounds, Blue scored five and Harris and Ingram four apiece.
The Florida 4A champions meant business early in the first quarter, sprinting to a 14-6 lead. Blue and Carter each had five points but the Panthers found their footing and closed with a 9-1 to even the score at 14.
Talley and Perkins tallied six points apiece. LHP allowed the PVI to crawl back into the contest with nine turnovers. Meanwhile, Perkins, PVI’s primary ballhandler, was responsible for limited errors. PVI made 6 of 9 shots and outrebounded the Highlanders, 8-2.