BOYS FINAL:
Montverde Academy (FL) vs University School (FL)

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!

GIRLS FINAL:
Central Valley (WA) vs Hamilton Heights (TN)

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.

Semifinal 1 (boys):
University School (FL) vs Oak Hill Academy (VA)

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.

Semifinal 2 (boys):
Montverde Academy (FL) vs Findlay Prep (NV)

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.

Semifinal 2 (girls):
Central Valley (WA) vs Westlake (GA)

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.

Semifinal 1 (girls):
Hamilton Heights (TN) vs Winter Haven (FL)

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.

Quarterfinal 4(boys):
Montverde Academy (FL) vs Lone Peak (UT)

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.

Quarterfinal 3 (boys):
Oak Hill Academy (VA) vs Garfield (WA)

By Christopher Lawlor

NEW YORK – National championships are never assumed at Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.). The winning culture at America’s team won’t allow it. You’d figure it even though nine No. 1 banners are hanging from their hallowed Turner Gymnasium in rural southwestern Virginia.

The second-seeded Warriors took first step of the postseason in hope of hoisting another banner to the rafters on Thursday afternoon. They did so in impressive fashion after pasting seventh-seeded Garfield (Seattle, Wash.), 75-53, at the GEICO High School Nationals quarterfinals at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.

Next up for the Warriors is third-seeded University School (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) and mammoth junior Vernon Carey Jr. in the semifinals on Friday at 3 p.m. EDT on ESPN2.

“He [Carey] scored 29 points against us earlier this year,” OHA coach Steve Smith. “We’ll talk as a staff and think about what we will do different this team but he’s a talent.”

The Warriors (44-1) last captured the GEICO Nationals—when it was known as the DICK’S Nationals—in 2016 on a buzzer-beating, tip-in at raucous Madison Square Garden.

“Coach [Steve] Smith said the biggest game is the first one in a tournament. It’s one and done; we played well defensively,” said Will Richardson, who is a top-notch point guard and headed to Oregon in the fall.

The Bulldogs (28-2) concluded a championship season with a trip to New York and the program’s first state title since 2015 and the first for Roy as Garfield’s head coach. Last year he guided crosstown rivals Nathan Hale (Seattle) to a state crown.

“It’s a great experience for the players to play in big moments and in New York. This is a big event and it’s disappointing that we did not get off to a good start. Oak Hill is a great program and we were a little nervous in the first quarter missing some bunnies. We’ll return five guys that knows what it takes to get here,” Garfield coach Brandon Roy, who played seven seasons in the NBA and starred at the hometown Washington Huskies.

Garfield’s average margin of victory was 20 points but they were held well below their season average of 77 points per outing.

“I thought our defense was good in the fist half and not so good in the second half,” Smith said.

Garfield trailed 62-45 when Edward Turner drained a long, 3-pointer from the left wing with four minutes left. But the teams were even the remainder of the contest.

Keyontae Johnson contributed a game-high 19 points and six rebounds and Will Richardson had 17, including a pair of 3-pointers. Kansas-bound David McCormack sealed the interior with 15 points and 10 rebounds, sinking 7 of 13 shots.

OHA won it with 58 points in the paint, mostly in transition, but bucketed 33 of 63 shots (52.4%).

Garfield’s J’Raan Rooks, a USC recruit, had 15 points and 6 feet 6 junior Jamon Kemp added 11 points and seven rebounds.

“I’ve played against half these guys in AAU,” Rooks said. “We didn’t play a team like this all season. We didn’t play against the academy or prep schools who have the top players. It’s difference than playing in Seattle.”

The Warriors were putting on a clinic in the third period when they took a 43-22 lead with 4:17 left on Keyontae Johnson’s traditional three-point play. They would take a 19-point edge into the third at 50-31. Through three quarters, the Bulldogs were punished for their 21 turnovers that allowed 17 points for the Warriors.

“Nothing changed today; we played together and my role stayed the same,” Keyontae Johnson, a Florida signee, said. “We attacked the rim.”

OHA also manufactured 40 of their 50 from inside the paint.

Keyontae Johnson punctuated the 18-7 second-quarter run with a tomahawk dunk that wrecked the rim. Oak Hill led 37-15 and it could have been worse. Johnson tossed in 13 points, made five steals and pulled down four boards for a tidy stat line.

Akrum Ahemed and McCormack each scored seven points as the Warriors held an 18-2 edge on the fast break. Their aim was dead-on, nailing 17 of 29 shots for 58.6% and was OHA’s passing that accrued nine assists from five individuals.

Garfield was befuddled, dropping only 6 of 25 shots (24%) and turned the ball over 13 times. It was not a good showing for the Bulldogs, who usually are at the other end of the scoreline.

Oak Hill, well, was Oak Hill. Dependable and efficient. After giving off his boys a few weeks, the Warriors regrouped and amped up their training in preparation for GEICO. The second quarter was a microcosm of their season—when rested, the Warriors can beat anyone anywhere.

“We have better chemistry this year and our best players are the hardest workers; that’s really helped,” Smith acknowledged.

In the first quarter, OHA’s dominance was evident. They led 19-8 using superior athletes, crisp passing and a finely tuned transition game. Keyontae Johnson (six points), Keldon Johnson (four) and Akrum Ahmed (five) combined to score 15 of the 19.

Keldon Johnson rolled his ankle in the first and did not return. Keldon, a McDonald’s All-American, signed with Kentucky. His status for the semifinals is unknown but Smith said Johnson “will ice his ankle and see what it looks like Friday.”

In his absence, the 6 feet 3 senior Ahemed pumped in 12 points, making 5 of 7 shots from the field.

“Akrum played a lot in practice when Keldon [Johnson] played at the McDonald’s Game. I’m glad he had that experience and was ready to go,” Smith said.

Garfield, the Class 3A Washington state champions, fizzled from the field, going 3 of 13 (23.1%) and surrendering nine points off eight turnovers. Kemp scored five points to pace the Bulldogs.

“We played against some dudes unlike in Seattle,” Kemp added.

Quarterfinal 2 (boys):
Findlay Prep (NV) vs La Lumiere (IN)

By Christopher Lawlor

NEW YORK – It was all business for fourth-seeded Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) Thursday.

“We’re a senior loaded team,” said Findlay’s confident coach Paul Washington Sr. “Our seniors simply did not want to go home.”

Meanwhile La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.) would not go down without a fight but it was a forgettable third-quarter showing that ultimately decided the game.

“We picked the wrong day to go 0 for 12 from three-point range,” Lakers first-year coach Patrick Holmes said.

Findlay used a 48-29 second-half scoring spree to overcome the Lakers, 66-54, in the GEICO High School Nationals quarterfinals at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.

After going 5-1 in the last two GEICO Nationals, the reigning champion La Lumiere finally met their match. In 2016, the Lakers (23-4) lost in the championship game on a tip-in at the buzzer and last year coasted to the title.

It was apparent from the opening tip that La Lumiere could not match Findlay point-for-point or overall athleticism but plucky play from the backcourt, hustle on the floor and super junior Isaiah Stewart kept them in contention.

Their dream of a repeat died suddenly in the third. For Findlay it was a matter of time before they wore down Holmes’ club.

The Pilots (32-4) advance to the semifinals on Friday against top-seeded Montverde (Fla.) Academy or eighth-seeded Lone Peak (Highland, Utah) at 5 p.m. EDT on ESPN2.

The game featured the defending champions and a program from Nevada that won it three times in the first four years of the event’s existence. Bol Bol, Findlay’s monster man, was a game-time decision (Achilles tendon injury). He admitted two days earlier while at the McDonald’s All-American Game—which he sat out—that his status was touch-and-go but the South Sudanese post started Thursday.

The Oregon-bound Bol finished with four points on 2 of 10 shooting but cleared 11 rebounds. His lack of play showed in the opening minutes.

“Bol was a little rusty but it was our job to pick him up,” said teammate Reggie Chaney, who is an Arkansas signee on a senior-laden Findlay squad.

Findlay regrouped at halftime and stormed to a 30-28—its first lead of the afternoon. Chaney’s back-to-back baskets, including a slam off a missed shots capped the quick 12-3 burst in the opening 4:13 of the second half.

After that Findlay never trailed again.

Kyler Edwards (23 points) swished a long 3-pointer from the corner and it was 37-30 with two minutes left in the third. Findlay dropped another weapon in the in the final 75 second of the period as 7-3 rail Connor Vanover (eight points), who did not score in three minutes of action in the first half, knocked down consecutive three balls and Nathan Mensah twisting drive beat the third-quarter buzzer to give the Pilots a commanding 45-33 edge.

“I finally found my rhythm in the third quarter,” Edwards said.

Said Washington: “We run plays for Connor’s three-point shots. I ask him to be patience and he’s done a great job and hit two big 3s today in the third.”

Findlay’s 27-8 surge in the third not only accounted for more points they scored in the first half but burst La Lumiere’s bubble. Findlay made 10 of 17 shots (58.8%) compared to 3 of 10 and six turnovers for the Lakers.

“This is a tough gym to play in,” Washington said. “I reminded our guys at halftime of our game goals and that our strength is going inside.”

The Lakers played like a team that wanted it more in the opening half. They settled for a seven-point advantage, 25-18. It was senior Paxson Wojcik’s off-balance, 17-footer at the buzzer that brought his teammates racing onto the floor and into the dressing room for intermission.

Edwards topped the Pilots with eight points and Chaney had six at the break. Findlay’s frigid 8 of 29 shooting (27.6%) with Bol missing all seven shots from the field.

Stewart had 12 points and seven rebounds for the Lakers and Campbell added five and four assists. The Lakers were up 20-19 in the rebounding battle, scoring 20 of 25 points in the paint.

Stewart, the No. 13-rated player by ESPN in the junior class, wound up with 23 points (11 of 19 accuracy from the floor) and a game-high 14 rebounds. The Rochester, N.Y. native still has a year remaining and is considered a shoo-in for the 2018 McDonald’s Game.

“Coming here this year was great for my game; I’m looking forward to next year already,” Stewart said.

“They were doubled Isaiah and he did a great job overcoming it,” Holmes said.

Senior Tyger Campbell, the courageous point guard headed to UCLA in the fall, had 10 points, six assists and four steals, playing steady in his final prep game.

“It’s a great experience coming to Christ the King every year. We train each day to make it here,” Campbell said.

The Pilots had a chance to slice the deficit to four points by the break but a long rebound with 3 seconds left in the half, an outlet pass to Wojcik and a left-handed heave from the left wing.

Findlay pecked away in the second quarter and reduced it to 17-12 at 3:39. Stewart answered a minute later with a rim-rattling dunk off a perfectly executed inbounds lob to the rim and a 19-14 lead.

The Lakers came out fighting and carried a 14-6 lead into the second quarter. Things got heated late in the first following a La Lumiere slam-dunk as the bench was assessed a technical foul for chirping too loud.

“Down 14-6 is nothing new to us,” Washington added. “If you are familiar with our schedule we’ve been in these situations before; it was just another quarter for us.”

Quarterfinal 1 (boys):
University School (FL) vs Shadown Mountain (AZ)

By Christopher Lawlor

NEW YORK – It figures the most talented player in the junior class had the last say Thursday afternoon.

Vernon Carey Jr., the 6 feet 10 man-child had rocked the rim with 1 minute, 14 seconds left and nothing to prove. Carey attacked the iron with a vengeance and hung on for dear life.

For his efforts: a technical foul.

So what because third-seeded University School (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) advanced and in a one-and-done event to play another day. Carey finished with 20 points and ripped seven rebounds as the Sharks downed sixth-seeded Shadow Mountain (Phoenix), 75-63, in the GEICO High School Nationals quarterfinals at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.

The Sharks (34-1) will play fourth-seeded No. 2 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) or No. 7 Garfield (Seattle) Friday at 3 p.m. EDT on ESPN2. It was the second straight year that Shadow Mountain dropped out of the GEICO Nationals in the first round. The Matadors dipped to 25-2 overall and concluded the campaign with a fourth state title in five years.

Carey showed why he is one of the nation’s most recruited pivots making 9 of 10 shots and dishing out three assists from the high post and wing. The Sharks made 50% of their shots (29 of 58) and outscored their opponents, 22-15, on the break and 18-9 on second chances.

Shadow Mountain, which is build on pressure defense and four guards, netted 21 points off turnovers but did not have the muscle to stay with Carey’s interior game.

Jovan Blacksher tossed in 20 points in the loss, sinking 8 of 16 shots, and teammate Immanuel Allen had 19 points and six rebounds.

Both teams won state championship nearly a month ago but the lack of play was not evident in the early going.

And heading into the fourth quarter, the packed gym agreed. University led 50-46 as New Mexico-bound Drue Drinnon (nine points, six assists) pumped in four straight free throws. The Matadors tied the game at 44 and took their first lead at 43-42 with 3:45 left in the third when Blacksher wowed the building with a yo-yo dribble drive and completed the traditional three-point play.

Carey, the No. 2 prospect in the ESPN 60 rankings for the Class of 2019, gave his team a 34-30 halftime score, dropping in a turnaround jumper with 3 seconds left. He scored 11 points and grabbed three boards as the Sharks connected on 15 of 29 shots (46.7%).

Allen’s 11 points and Blacksher’s six paced Shadow Mountain, which had only six steals and shot 12 of 28 (38.5%) in the opening half.

University’s height advantage provided a 19-11 edge on the boards.

Prior to that Shadow Mountain fought back from 13-down, forging a tie at 30 on a Jalen Williams basket with 68 seconds to go.

Just when the Matadors appeared headed for long, dismal day, their defense awoke and so did the offense. Trailing by 13 points early in the second quarter, the Arizonans chipped away with a quick 13-6 burst capped by Immanuel Allen’s thunderous dunk in traffic. University took a 26-13 lead in the second but Shadow Mountain’s signature pressure defense enabled the comeback.

The smaller Matadors triggered their run with quick guards attacking the rim and out-hustling the Sharks on the offensive glass.

The Florida Class 5A state champions closed the opening eight minutes with an 8-2 spree for a 20-11 edge. There were 13 total turnovers but the Sharks were up 10-4 in fast-break points.

Carey gave the New York hoop junkies a taste of his up-and-down-the-court game midway through the first quarter with a crowd-pleasing, one-handed jam from the left wing and a 12-9 lead.

As customary, the Matadors were pressing from the opening tap. The constant motion of swirling arms forced traps and the points followed. Shadow Mountain entered the game averaging nearly 20 steals per game. They finished with only nine for the game.

Junior guard Jaelen House, who verballed to Arizona State, had a rough day from the floor going 2 of 13 from the floor and misfiring on all seven shots from three-point land but wound up with 12 points and three rebounds.

The Matadors shot only 22 of 57 for 38.6%.

Sophomore forward Scottie Barnes, a major recruit, totaled a double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds. He added a slam dunk in the fourth quarter when University pulled away an 8-0 run after leading 50-46 after three.