MONTVERDE ACADEMY (FL)
Runner up: University School (FL)
CENTRAL VALLEY (WA)
Runner up: Hamilton Heights (TN)
By Christopher Lawlor
NEW YORK – This team checks all the boxes.
Where to begin?
Coaching: Kevin Boyle is the current national coach of the year by several national outlets. Check.
Star players: RJ Barrett, you’ve heard of him, is headed to Duke and was named national player of the year by several outlets. He played in the McDonald’s All American Game and will do the same next week in the Jordan Brand Classic in nearby Brooklyn. Plus, the roster chock full of Division I players, including several from Europe and Asia. Check.
History: In the last six years, they’ve won four GEICO High School Nationals crowns, including a run of three from 2013 to 2015. In nine years, they’ve reached the GEICO final seven times. Check.
That check mate for top-ranked Montverde (Fla.) which defeated No. 2 University School (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), 76-58, Saturday afternoon in the GEICO Nationals final at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.
It also gave the Eagles the unofficial national championship and Florida state title between the powerhouses. Montverde does not compete for a Florida High School Athletic Association state title and the Sharks won the Class 5A championship earlier this month.
Congratulations, Montverde, the hardware is going back to central Florida for the first time since 2015.
“This group restored us to the top again,” said Boyle, who completed his first unbeaten season of his career. “Ben Simmons and DeAngelo Russell didn’t go undefeated but the team did. They are a credit to our school and the program.
“Our kids attend school in a structured and disciplined environment and that extends to the court.”
The much anticipated meeting was well played and fulfilled the prophecy of Paragon Marketing’s partner Rashid Ghazi, who created the event 10 years ago when it was played in Maryland.
“I always thought it would be neat if the No. 1 team played the No. 2 team at our event and give people an idea of who is truly the nation’s No. 1 team. There’s no debate how the ranking services rank teams this year and the GEICO Nationals gave both University and Montverde a platform to play a game at a high level for high stakes,” he said.
The Montverde faithful could touch it early in the fourth quarter when Barrett unleashed a spin move and then sliced through the University defense for a 20-point bulge. Scottie Barnes lost his cool on Barrett’s spin move and was assessed a technical foul.
Karrington Davis nailed a 3-pointer to zoom Montverde’s lead to 26 points, 70-44, with 4:54 left.
Barrett wrote the final line of his storied prep career with a minute left, flying to the hoop and slamming in the deuce that put a bow on it.
Frustration, anguish defeat … that summed up University’s afternoon the Middle Village neighborhood in the borough of Queens.
The highlights of the day were Vernon Carey Jr. slamming home a rebound midway through the fourth. Carey, the nation’s No. 2 player in the Class of 2019, finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Barnes showed why he is one of the nation’s top sophomore by tallying 24 points. But it wasn’t enough.
“I was struggling the whole game; every time I touched the ball they [Montverde] were doubling me,” Carey said.
Said Boyle: “Balsa Koprivica matched up well with Vernon Carey and that goes back to our team structure and discipline.”
Barrett closed with 25 points and 15 rebounds; Michael Devoe had 21 points, making 8 of 10 shots, including five 3-pointers and Filip Petrusev added 15 points.
“This was the cherry on top of the cake for the season and time here at Montverde,” Barrett said.
Montverde left no doubt in the third quarter after Nembhard buried a deep 3-pointer for a 54-37 lead. They stretched to 59-44 after three and it would have been more but Carey’s 3-pointer beat the buzzer. Barnes was the workhorse for the Sharks with 13 points in the period.
The action picked up in the second quarter and the pace favored Montverde, which led 35-36. Nembhard’s driving layup with 3.3 seconds to go, gave the Eagles a nine-point edge and momentum heading into the final 16 minutes.
The opening half featured one score tied and a lead change.
Carey was limited to four points and six rebounds, while Barnes carried the University scoring load with nine. Petrusev topped the Eagles with points while Barrett had nine on a balanced score sheet.
University (36-2) scored the game’s first six points before the Eagles knew what hit them. After a few adjustments and the nerves calmed, Boyle’s team went on a 14-4 run to end the period and take a 14-10 lead. Petrusev continued his scoring from the semifinals, where he scored 21 points, by netting five.
Neither team shot the ball particularly well as they combined for 11 of 32 as the pressure man defense ruled.
A fourth GEICO crown is quite impressive but the coach knew came with strings attached.
“I have a very short attention span; I move on to the next day,” Boyle said. “I’m satisfied and relieved about winning this one. I felt the pressure to win this year; I had to excel with this team.”
Barrett captained the GEICO Nationals all-tournament, earning the Most Valuable Player, he was joined by teammate Nembhard and University’s Carey and Barnes and Steven Ashworth of Lone Peak (Highland, Utah), whose team lost to Montverde in the quarterfinals. Ashworth is headed to Utah State after serving a two year LDS mission in Indiana.
“The biggest thing I learned this year is I can take my game to another level,” said Barrett, a decorated player for the Canadian Junior National Team.
That’s good news for the Duke Blue Devils, but be forewarned: Look out ACC!
By Christopher Lawlor
NEW YORK – For the basketball purists, there was sense of accomplishment. For all the girls’ high school teams that play in out-of-the-way places, where teammates attend kindergarten through secondary school, attend the same church and leave within a jump shot of each other, your team is Central Valley High School of Veradale, Wash.
Take well-deserved bow.
“We pretty much have known each since grade school, playing AAU together; we have great chemistry,” junior guard Camryn Scaife said.
The Bears showed old-school fundamentals and playing with a heart bigger than the state of Washington means something. For a team that did not leave the state of Washington the entire season, giving few an understanding or a gauge of where they stood in the national structure, you do now.
GEICO High School Nationals champions!
“It’s amazing, so surreal,” CV coach Fred Rehkow said.
The Bears from eastern Washington, within the Spokane media market, outpointed top-seeded Hamilton Heights Christian Academy, 66-61, Saturday morning in the championship game at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.
Veradale (pop. 9.837) is 12 miles from Spokane and the town’s pride are the Bears who are Class 4A state champions two of the last three seasons. No one would have thunk it.
No way any day. Not so fast.
“It was the perfect, a great journey and like coach said, very surreal,” said Lacie Hull, like twin sister are headed to Stanford.
The Bears finish 29-0 and earned street cred in the hoop community while HHCA (25-2), a team with two McDonald’s All Americans and at least seven Division I players on the roster lost for the second time in the final.
CV nearly coughed it up, though. That 10-point lead evaporated quickly in the third quarter and Hamilton Heights Christian took the lead early in the fourth. Lexie Hull nailed a 15-footer with 6:18 left and the Bears never trailed again.
There were dicey moments. CV went up by nine points with less than three minutes left. HHCA had a chance to tie it twice, including the final seconds. Jasmine Massengill scooped up a deflected inbounds pass and scored with 21.9 seconds left to make it 63-61. After a quick timeout by CV, Rehkow dug deep into his coaching playbook for a press breaker.
“It’s called Wizard and we’ve been working on it and hadn’t used. There was no sense holding on to it,” he said.
The inbounds went to Hailey Christopher, who dished off to Lexie Hull, who was fouled. Hull nailed two free throws to ice it.
Lexie Hull had 26 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and sank all 11 free throw attempts, Skaife had 14 points and Lacie Hull added nine. The Bears were 21 of 22 from the line for a sizzling 95.5 %.
HHCA’s Massengill had a game-high 32 points, five rebounds and six assists. Treasure Hunt had nine and Georgia Tech-bound Elizabeth Balogun added five.
“She’s capable of putting a team on her back and Jasmine did that today,” HHCA coach Keisha Hunt said of her McDonald’s All American who signed with the Tennessee Lady Vols.
Staring at a second straight loss in the GEICO final, the Lady Hawks ratcheted up the defense and pulled within 39-36 when Massengill threaded a pass to Esmery Martinez for a deuce midway into the third quarter. Skaife stayed sharp from three-point land, canning one in the opening moments for a brief nine-point edge.
HHCA had a horrific sequence with 2 ½ minutes to go in the third, missing a chippy layup, committing an offensive foul and unforced turnover. In spite of that spate of errors, the Lady Hawks rallied for a 43-41 lead. Massengill’s two free throws with 56.8 seconds snapped a 41-all tie.
HHCA had not led since the opening minute.
If some thought Central Valley’s quick start in the semifinals was an aberration, think again.
Tomekia Whitman’s running one-hander with 5.2 seconds left have the Bears a 36-26 edge at the intermission. The trademark perimeter based offense and scrappiness in the lane gave CV the 10-point bulge.
Lexie Hull had 13 points as the Bears were 11 of 22 from the field for 50%. Skaife’s trio of 3s accounted for her nine. Massengill kept the Lady Hawks afloat with 12 points but there was sparse contributions from her teammates.
The strong perimeter game provided an 18-14 lead heading into the second. The game was tied at 13 when Mady Simmelink sank a three from the left wing. HHCA’s Cardosa was effective on the offensive glass with five boards but could not convert consistently going 1 of 5 from close range.
Lexie Hull had seven points for the Bears, who made four 3-pointers.
The Bears were up 11-8 at the first media timeout as Skaife drilled a long 3-pointer. CV’s patient patterned offense was effective early against the taller Lady Hawks.
“People may not know this but were are a school of 60 students and about 20 girls. We have a hallway and a gym and that’s about it. Five years ago this program was ranked around 1,500th in the nation. We’ve come a long way as a team and a school. I cannot be more proud of these girls; we have no regrets.
“Today we put them [Central Valley] on the line too many times but I’m not ashamed of today’s performance like I was last year when we were complacent and out of it early,” Keisha Hunt added.
By Christopher Lawlor
NEW YORK – There are rare moments when you can appreciate the greatness of a special player. Vernon Carey Jr. qualifies as such player.
Carey can do-it-all, really. Standing 6 feet 10, he’s agile on his feet, pirouetting through the lane, spinning to the glass for another fantastic finish at the rim. The next moment he’s unchained terror, eyeing the cylinder and looking to do his imitation of DaMarcus Cousins or Darryl Dawkins. Yet his game is more and then some in difference to the legendary Chocolate Thunder.
In the biggest game of the season, Carey scored 29 points on Friday, including five scintillating slam dunks that shook the building’s foundation to core. This is the future of basketball coming straight at you at warp speed or floating into the picture with the finesse of a knuckleball.
“Today I was focusing on the paint,” Carey said. “As a team were focused on playing better defense than the first time we played them at the Hoophall [Classic].”
Third-seeded University School (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) looked every bit one of the nation’s best boys’ teams and they dismantled a perennial powerhouse Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.), 80-65, in the GEICO High School Nationals semifinals at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.
It wasn’t the first meeting this season between the powerhouse programs. Oak Hill posted an 82-69 pasting of the Sharks on Jan. 15 at the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass. This time University returned the favor on a grander stage.
“We wanted revenge today after losing to them,” said senior Trey Doomes, who scored 17 points.
That means University punched its ticket to the national championship game on Saturday and squares off with No. 1 Montverde (Fla.) Academy or No. 4 Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) at 12 p.m. on ESPN.
“We’re the first traditional high school boys’ team to reach the championship of this event so that’s an accomplishment,” University coach Adrian Sosa said. “Since we last played Oak Hill we paid more attention to detail and now we’re playing at different level.”
The Warriors played shorthanded when Keldon Johnson, a 6 feet 7, McDonald’s All-American did not play in the first half due to injury. The Kentucky-bound forward suffered an ankle ailment in the first round win over Garfield (Seattle) on Thursday. He entered the tournament as the team’s top scorer at 20 points per game and his go-to presence was sorely missed.
He played six minutes in the third, scoring four points but the Sharks continued to hold a 53-44 lead. Carey had 21 points through three.
Carey and the Sharks were cruising to the final and when he stole an errant pass and finished with an emphatic flush, the Warriors were down 13 points at 45-32 with 4:10 in the third.
“Before the game Keldon couldn’t even walk backwards; in the second half he really wanted to go. Keldon is out leader and inspirational guy,” Oak Hill coach Steve Smith said. “Today we were out of it. We did not play well and cannot make any excuses. We had a breakdown on defense and they had too many second chance points. They outplayed us.”
The Sharks (36-1) tallied 13 second-chance points and shot 55.8% (29 of 52 from the floor), with several of the points coming off high percentage opportunities.
Sophomore Scottie Barnes played like a blue-chip recruit from the Class of 2020, scoring 22 points, throwing down two dunks and snaring six rebounds.
In one sequence of the fourth quarter, the Warriors had a chance to slice the lead to six points or two possessions. Richardson’s long three from the right wing caromed hard off the iron and back at the other end Drue Drinnon canned a short jumped to bump the lead back to 11 at 62-51.
It typified the afternoon for Oak Hill (44-2), which lost for the first time in seven games. The Warriors were just 4 of 17 from three-point territory but committed an uncharacteristic 16 turnover and were outscored 22-12 on the fast break.
Will Richardson led the Warriors with 23 points and six assists, David McCormack finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds and Keyontae Johnson hit for 13 points in his final scholastic game before going to Florida.
Thanks to a spiffy 21-14 second-quarter spree, the Sharks enjoyed a 36-28 lead at halftime. The score was tied twice at 10 and 12 in the first and the lead changed hands five times, the final one was early in the second for the Floridians. The Warriors had no answer for Carey’s 14 points and five rebounds. Barnes added 10.
In Keldon Johnson’s absence, Kansas-bound McCormack was clutch with 10 points and eight boards and Keyontae Johnson scored seven but Oak Hill only went 10 of 24 from the field for 41.7% allowed 11 points off nine turnovers in the first half.
It was Oak Hill’s largest halftime deficit of the season and eventually their second loss in 46 games.
University’s defense picked up the pace in the second and helped fuel a 26-20 lead. Carey scored five points in the 11-6 spree, including a traditional three-point play and dunk off a slick no-look pass threaded by Barnes.
OHA came out shooting and quickly jumped to a 7-3 lead. University rallied for an 8-7 edge before Carey’s two-handed, power stuff at 2:25. Xavien Flowers gave the Sharks a 15-14 lead through one quarter. All eyes were on Carey who had six points and hauled down four boards in the opening period. Richardson scored six for the Warriors, who shot 6 of 11 (54.5%) from the field.
University mixed up its defense, throwing 3-2 and matchup zones that gave the Warriors fits.
“We’re known as a football state but we play some very good basketball in Florida,” Sosa said.
Oak Hill concluded a sensational season. Playing in New York, marks the 12th state they will have visited this season and that includes a grueling schedule and 36-game winning skein to open the campaign. Oak Hill won three in-season tournaments: Chick-fil-A Classic National Division (S.C.) prior to Christmas and followed that up with the Les Schwab Invitational (OR) and the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions (Missouri) crown over the Martin Luther King Weekend.
“I’m blessed to coach great players and this year’s team was pretty special,” Smith acknowledged.
By Christopher Lawlor
NEW YORK – Montverde (Fla.) Academy is 32 minutes from history.
The Eagles need one more victory to complete the first undefeated campaign in coach Kevin Boyle’s storied dossier—hard to believe—and the fourth in program history.
Backed by three double-digits scorers and quick burst to open the game, Montverde crushed fourth-seeded Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.), 71-53, in the GEICO High School Nationals semifinals at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.
“We got off to a good start and Filip Petrusev did a lot of it,” Montverde coach Kevin Boyle said. “Filip shot the hell out of it and RJ now understands what it takes to be a great a player.”
Boyle’s club returns to the final after losing last year and could claim a fourth overall GEICO title in the last six years. Montverde is 3-1 in GEICO title tilts.
The undefeated Eagles will play third-seeded University School (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) for the GEICO Nationals crown on Saturday at 12 p.m. EDT on ESPN. It is University’s initial appearance in the national final while Montverde is making its fifth in 10 years. Montverde captured three-consecutive GEICO titles from 2013-15 with former national player of the year Ben Simmons (now with the Philadelphia 76ers) at the controls.
Saturday’s final means an all-Florida final to determine the GEICO champion, but more importantly the overall national champion. Montverde is the nation’s consensus No. 1 team but University will present plenty of problems.
“We’ll have some tough matchups with University; we have to play good defense,” Montverde forward Filip Petrusev said.
The Eagles (34-0) moved into the title Michael Devoe scored 11 points and Petrusev, a Gonzaga commit, struck for 21 points, sinking 5 of 6 3-pointers. Montverde shot the ball with consistency, hitting 28 of 63 but were more efficient from downtown, going 9 of 20 (45%). They also shared the ball with 20 assists.
At 7-1, Serbian Balsa Koprivica added more depth, contributing eight points, seen rebounds and rejected five shots.
“Balsa played better today,” Boyle said of his lanky junior. “Bol Bol might be the best big man in the country but Balsa was better. Balsa will be a top three or four lottery someday.”
The Duke-bound, unassuming Barrett finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds, becoming the GEICO Nationals all-time leading scorer having played in three tournaments.
“We’ve been working hard for this the whole year,” Barrett said. “I want to win this tournament more than anything this year.”
Early in the third, Barrett awoke the crowd with a coast-to-coast slam-dunk and a 34-20 lead. Whenever the Pilots would creep back into contention, the Eagles answered back. This time there was no need for Barrett to skywalk to rim but teammates Petrusev and Andrew Nembhard pumped in three balls for the left and right wings, respectively. It was 46-29 at 3:57 and the Pilots were on the verge of elimination.
But not so fast because the Pilots made it 50-40 on Reggie Chaney’s putback dunk with 1:26 remaining in the third. Montverde took a 55-42 edge into the fourth as Barrett rammed home a Zhenlin Zhang miss at the buzzer.
Montverde could sense it was moving on and solved Findlay’s 3-2 zone.
The Pilots (34-5) could have reduced the halftime deficit under 10 points for the first time since three minutes into the contest but Chaney missed the front end of a 1 and 1 and Montverde still led 30-19. Petrusev was held scoreless in the quarter but Barrett had five of his eight in the period.
Edwards scored seven points and Bol Bol had three points, two blocks and two rebounds for the Pilots. Findlay’s 8-of-21 shooting (38.1%) contributed to the 11-point hole at the break
Following a day when the Eagles were fortunate to have won, they jumped to a quick 13-2 lead draining a trio of threes. Montverde eventually carried a 22-10 edge into the second Petrusev flipped in 12 points. Montverde held a 12-7 advantage on the boards. Findlay’s Edwards had six points but the shooting was subpar at 5 of 12 (41.7%).
For the game, Findlay’s Chaney scored 15 points (7-of-10 shooting efficiency) and seven rebounds and the 7-3 Bol, who headed to Oregon in the fall, closed out his prep career with 12 points, six rebounds and three blocks. Kyler Edwards finished with nine points, but shot only 3 of 17 from the floor.
“We were more focused tonight,” Boyle said.
By Christopher Lawlor
NEW YORK – Finally Central Valley (Veradale, Wash.) is no longer a mystery. You ask, mystery?
Having never left the state of Washington this season and played just one team from out-of-state against Post Falls (Idaho) this season, the Bears were a bit of an unknown outside of the Pacific Northwest.
They are no longer a mystery and one step away from girls’ basketball immortality.
That’s because third-seeded Central Valley made quick work of Westlake (Atlanta, Ga.) on Friday afternoon. Leading by eight and 17 points in the opening half, the Bears coasted to a 70-57 victory over Westlake in the GEICO High School Nationals semifinals at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.
Central Valley converted 17 turnovers into 20 points and All-American Lexie Hull, a Stanford recruit (along with her twin Lacie), torched the Lions for 30 points, 13 rebounds and four steals. CV played unflappable even when Westlake fought back in the second half.
Westlake dug itself in an early hole and could not escape and that’s exactly what the Bears had hoped. Central Valley prides itself in valuing each possession, swinging the ball around the perimeter in a disciplined pace. They could race up and down the floor but did so under control.
Once the Lions were down by double-digits and CV’s 3-pointers started falling, the championship game was set.
The undefeated Bears, the two-time Washington Class 4A state champions, will play top-seeded Hamilton Heights Christian Academy (Chattanooga, Tenn.) in Saturday’s final that tips at 10 a.m. EDT on ESPN2. It is the second straight trip to the GEICO Nationals title game for the Tennesseans while the Bears are making their first.
Anastasia Warren kept the Lions alive, burying a trio of 3-pointers in the final four minutes but they could not draw any closer than 65-55.
CV absorbed Westlake’s comeback attempts and carried a 47-35 edge into the fourth quarter.
Warren netted a team-high 25 points and Taylor Hosendove added 17 points and nine rebounds in the loss. Westlake’s shooting touch abandoned them going 20 of 60 (33.3%)
Westlake was amped to open the third quarter cut the deficit to 43-33 at 3:31. The Bears never flinched and trading baskets was not the way to catch the Spokane area team.
Senior Hailey Christopher (14 points, seven rebounds) flung the final dagger of the opening half. With Westlake locking in on defense, the patient Bears worked for a late shot and it resulted in Christopher’s second trey of the quarter that gave CV an insurmountable 37-20 advantage at the interval.
Lexie Hull (17 points) and Christopher (eight) teamed for 25 points in the opening 16 minutes, outscoring the Lions. Hosendove, a Texas Tech signee, topped Westlake with nine but her team hit only 20% of their shots.
The Bears (28-0) were fueled by a 16-4 edge from points off turnovers.
Camryn Skaife (11 points) and Christopher opened the second quarter drilling 3-pointers over Westlake’s 2-3 zone and Lexie Hull found the gaps and suddenly the lead swelled to 16 points at 26-8 with 5:37 left.
Central Valley came out on fire and the Lions were flat. The Bears built double-digit leads before settling for a 16-8 lead as they hit 7 of 16 shots. Lexie Hull crushed the Atlanta school with 12 points, connecting on 5 of 9 and the Bears scored six points off turnovers.
Westlake (30-2) finished a state championship season, capturing Georgia’s Class AAAAAAA final. Coach Hilda Hankerson’s team was more than prepared for the program’s first visit to GEICO Nationals and the Georgia postseason when it played at the prestigious Naples (FL) Holiday Shootout in December, where it took second.
Now that Central Valley is in New York, second place is not an option. The Bears want to return home with the hardware.
By Christopher Lawlor
NEW YORK – Size versus speed told it all. That’s exactly the way top-seeded Hamilton Height Christian Academy (Chattanooga, Tenn.) drew it up.
The Lady Hawks seized control in the second quarter and pulled away for a 62-49 in over fourth-seeded Winter Haven (Fla.) in the GEICO High School Nationals semifinals at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.
The Lady Hawks will play second-seeded Westlake (Atlanta, Ga.) or third-seeded Central Valley (Veradale, Wash.) in Saturday’s final that tips at 10 a.m. EDT on ESPN2. It is the second straight trip to the GEICO Nationals title game for the Tennesseans.
True to their pregame hype, Winter Haven wanted to establish a running game. That meant pressure defense and quick outlet passes to spring the break. The Blue Devils were derailed with poor decisions but their scrappy play kept things interesting.
HHCA (25-2) remained patient in the opening 10 minutes. The height advantage was apparent and the halfcourt sets were run to perfection. HHCA rolled a starting five that include players 6-1, 6-2, 6-1, 6-1 and 6-7. That’s nearly a four-inch advantage across the lineup.
Winter haven reduced the deficit to six points on three occasions in the final period but Tennessee-bound Jazmine Massengill had other thoughts. At 53-47 and Winter Haven pushing with a throng of supports in full throats, the McDonald’s All-American knifed through three defenders for a layup and on the next possession dropped in two free throws and score bounced to 57-47 with 2:20 left.
After that it was a matter of time before the Lady Hawks could celebrate—albeit briefly.
Esmery Martinez , a 6 feet 1 junior forward, produced a double-double with 17 points and 18 rebounds; Elizabeth Balogun had 14 points; and Massengill manufactured 13 points seven assists and eight rebounds. The Lady Hawks won the war of the boards, 48-34.
Zakiyah Franklin, who is an unsigned senior, tossed in 16 points but sank only 7 of 21 shots (33.3%) and Melijah Sullivan added 15 points and three rebounds. Winter Haven could not find a shooting rhythm going 17 of 62 from the floor and 5 of 23 from three-point range.
By the end of the third quarter, the Blue Devils’ frosty shooting and HHCA’s height edge gave them a 41-30 lead.
The game plan played out at the onset of the third quarter when HHCA’s Kamilla Cardoso became in the interior focus for high lobs that helped built the first double-digit lead of the game. It took nearly three minutes for the Florida’s Class 8A to get on the board on Diamond Battles’ driving layup to make it 34-24.
Battles pulled the Blue Devils within 30-22, drilling a 3-pointer that beat the first-half buzzer. Winter Haven’s woeful 9-of-38 shooting (23.7%) led to the deficit.
The Lady Hawks scored 26 of their 30 points in the paint and pounded the glass for 26 rebounds. Balogun had 10 points and Martinez added eight points and nine rebounds. They also hit 9 of 17 from beyond the arc. Franklin had nine points, but only shot 4 of 13.
Balogun canned a deep 3-pointer with two minutes left in the half expanding the Lady Hawks’ edge to nine points at 28-19.
Winter Haven pushed the pace and at times looked sloppy yet were able to open a 17-11 lead in the second quarter before the Lady Hawks regained controlled with an 8-0 run to make it 21-17 on Martinez’s putback at 4:01.
The Blue Devils maintained the early lead and were up 9-4 when Zakiyah Franklin buried a deep 3 from the corner with 4:01 left. Balogun’s five points were enough for an 11-all tie through one.
Winter Haven had issues guarding 6-7 sophomore Cardoso. The young Brazilian wound up with seven points, eight boards and three blocks but her wingspan deterred the Floridians from invading the lane.
The Blue Devils (32-2) came to New York after winning their third consecutive state championship making it the first team from Polk County to win three straight girls’ titles. Lawson’s team joined a selected group last month becoming the 12th girls’ basketball team to win at least three titles in a row after a 56-46 win over Nova (Davie) in the Class 8A final on March 3.
That chemistry that Winter Haven enjoyed in the postseason did not return after the nearly four-week layoff.
By Christopher Lawlor
NEW YORK – What could have been one of the largest upsets in the history of high basketball fell short on Thursday.
Top-seeded Montverde (Fla.) Academy can breathe easy now because of momentary lapse. It was a moment torn from the 1993 NCAA Final Four tableau when Michigan’s Chris Webber called a timeout when the Wolverines did not have any left. Eventually it was the turning point in a seesaw game with North Carolina.
Fast forward a quarter century and Cinderella’s glass shoe was mashed to a jillion pieces when eight-seeded Lone Peak (Highland, Utah) called a timeout with 19.8 seconds remaining in a tie game.
The result—bench technical foul on the Knights.
“I have 95 coaches on the bench,” Lone Peak coach David Evans said. “Ultimately it’s our fault the coaches but don’t allow that to overshadow a great game.”
Evans is right but the facts are cold and hard in this case. Montverde survived a white-knuckler 87-82 over the Knights in the GEICO High School Nationals quarterfinals at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.
The game was knotted at 82 after the Utahans made a historic comeback after trailing by more than 20 points throughout the second half. RJ Barrett, the national player of the year, then made one of two to make it 83-82. A foul by Lone Peak allowed Michael Devoe to can two more and Barrett added the finishing touches from the charity stripe.
Tough why to lose, right?
“I want to see them lose like that,” Montverde coach Kevin Boyle said, jokingly. “Lone Peak did a great job; they are a good disciplined team and well coached. That’s one of the best second half performances by a team that I’ve against one of my teams in 30 years of coaching.”
The undefeated Eagles moved into the semifinals for the second straight year to face fourth-seeded Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) on Friday at 5 p.m. EDT on ESPN2. It’s a matchup of similar teams that love to run, defend and showcase superior athletes.
The game had the markings of a blowout. The nation’s consensus No. 1 team versus a disciplined program with eight state titles in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains.
The threes started raining down in the closing minutes and the Knights inched closer to a stunner. Twice in the final 1:50 the Knights finally tied it and took a brief lead—only their second of the contest—at 82-81when Chantry Ross (20 points) drilled an NBA 3-pointer that blew the roof off the joint.
With 34.5 seconds left, the Duke-bound Barrett canned one of two free throw for a tie and then the unreal conclusion. Barrett was sensational with 33 points (15 of 20 free throws) and Andrew Nembhard added 16.
Utah State-bound Steven Ashworth netted all 29 points after the break, making 7 of 14 threes and Jackson Brinkerhoff had 11. Ashworth will postpone his collegiate career starting this July with a two-year LDS missionary in Indiana.
“We’re always letting people know that we belong; some teams will underestimate us,” Ashworth said.
Ashworth drained a pair of threes in the opening four minutes of the final period but the Knights trailed 75-69. They reduced the deficit to three points in the first minute but the resilient Eagles flexed their muscles with Barrett hitting two driving baskets.
At the four-minute media timeout, Barrett had 25 points and Ashworth 22. The crowd sensing an exciting finish was looking for a March Madness Cinderella story.
Strange things began to happen in the third quarter. First, Lone Peak decided to match Montverde basket for basket. Then Steven Ashworth, the team’s leading scoring and Utah State recruit, awoke from his first-half slumber. Ashworth dropped in 16 points, including four threes.
Chantry Ross’s 3-pointer with 13.4 seconds left in the third brought Lone Peak within 66-59 and pulled the fans into its corner. After the timeout, Nembhard broke down the defense, slithering in to give the Eagles a 68-59 advantage.
The Knights refused to cave, even when the Eagles, were ready to pounce and pour it on. When Max Brenchley nailed a 3-pointer with 1:20 left in the half, Lone Peak dropped the deficit to 11 points at 36-25. Montverde would take a 39-25 edge into halftime.
Barrett had 14 points and Andrew Nembhard added nine as Montverde received scoring from eight players. The Eagles were lethal in the paint, holding a 32-4 edge, including 12 in transition.
Eighth-seeded Lone Peak, reliant on the treys (5 of 11 for 45.5% in the second quarter), received eight points from Jaxon Pollard and six from Chantry Ross. Ashworth, who averaged more than 16 points per game and surpassed 1,000 career points earlier this term, was in unfamiliar territory without a point in the first half.
If Lone Peak was in awe, it did not show it in the first half. Twice in the second quarter, Boyle burned timeouts to pull his team together.
In the first quarter, the Eagles raced to a 21-8 lead. Barrett added another clip to his impressive highlight-reel career with a flying, one-handed dunk, making it 8-3. Barrett cocked the ball behind his back and rammed the orange globe through the cylinder. It was pure joy for the adoring crowd that oohed and in admiration.
Barrett totaled 11 points in the first, draining all five attempts. Lone Peak was only 3 of 16 from the floor but were victim of sticky man defense that Montverde unleashed.
Later in the game it was Montverde’s will to win that prevailed.