6A: Northeast’s Defense Leads Way to 6A Finals
Defense is supposed to win championships.
So holding a team scoreless for nearly 11 minutes – during the second half no less – is a winning formula.
Northeast went on an elongated 18-0 run through the third and fourth quarter to rally back and pick up a 43-37 win over Orlando Edgewater Friday afternoon in the Class 6A state semifinal at The Lakeland Center.
The Hurricanes (20-7) will face either Fort Myers or Fort Walton Beach Choctawhatchee Saturday in the 6A title game at 1:35 p.m.
Edgewater, a program that won three straight state titles from 2012 to 2014, led Northeast 32-21 with 6:11 left in the third quarter. The Eagles would stay stuck on 32 until the 3:48 mark of the fourth quarter.
The Hurricanes, who were playing in their first girls’ basketball state final four in school history, battled back and only trailed by four at the end of the third quarter. Northeast then opened the fourth quarter with a 9-0 run – sparked by two three-point plays by junior Cabria Lee – to take a lead it would never relinquish.
TaKyla Austin sealed the game with a breakaway layup to push Northeast’s lead to 43-36 with 36 seconds left to play.
Northeast head coach Zach Gillion said that his team hangs its hat on defense.
“All season we’ve been about defense, defense, defense,” Gillion said. “That’s been the biggest thing for us. We want to keep applying the pressure. Bring a lot of energy to the defensive end and get all over teams – especially in the fourth quarter – and it’ll start to get to them.”
The Hurricanes’ defense had better been sharp, though. Northeast shot an eye-widening 19 percent (13 for 68) from the field Friday. Most times, Northeast would attack the basket and get shots within the paint – but the ball just wouldn’t fall.
6-foot senior and Marshall signee Ashley Saintigene took advantage of all the errant shots, pulling down 20 rebounds – 13 offensive. Saintigene also scored 10 points and blocked eight shots. Fellow 6-foot senior Deborah Hudson, a Southern University signee, had eight rebounds as the Hurricanes hauled in 60 boards as a team; outdoing Edgewater, which finished with 49.
Austin finished with a team-high 12 points; Lee added 11 points, nine rebounds and four assists.
“I knew it was just a matter of time before our shots started to fall,” Lee said. “We just had to keep attacking the basket. I knew it had to turn around after a while.”
Edgewater ended up shooting 23 percent from the field and got a game-high 17 points from senior guard Tiara McMillan, but the Eagles committed 21 turnovers.
Northeast, whose team mantra is “Swag Check”, has been knocking off perennial powerhouse programs throughout its playoff run this season.
Prior to knocking out Edgewater, the Canes took down Fort Lauderdale Dillard and Miami Norland – two teams that have combined to win seven state crowns since 2009.
Some have even called the Hurricanes “Giant Killers” because of the teams they’ve knocked out, but senior Nailah Delinois said that beating powerhouse teams is what Northeast is “supposed to do”.
“We work really hard,” Delinois said. “We don’t care about what the other team has done in the past. We know what we’re supposed to do. We don’t get a lot of attention at Northeast, but we expect to win because we’re that’s what we’re supposed to do.”
“So if you want to call us ‘giant slayers’ or whatever…that’s what we’re supposed to do,” Delinois added.
Northeast will have to play Saturday’s championship game without coach Gillion on the sidelines. Gillion, a Seventh Day Adventist, recognizes Friday at sundown to Saturday at sundown as Sabbath. The Class 6A title game is set to tip-off at 1:30 p.m.
During his postgame press conference, Gillion spoke about not being able to coach the title game and make a brief plea to the FHSAA to change the start time of the game.
“I just wish [the FHSAA] would consider changing the time of the game, in respect for my religious beliefs,” Gillion said.
However, speaking with FHSAA officials in Lakeland, they said that Northeast petitioned – and was granted – to have its semifinal game changed to an earlier time on Friday. But the school only petitioned for the semifinals, not the finals – so the championship will go on as scheduled.
Class 6A state semifinals: Oakland Park Northeast 43, Orlando Edgewater 37 – OEW (22-6): McMillan 17, Patrick 12, Bell 5, Tolbert 3. NE (20-7): Austin 12, Lee 11, Saintigene 10, Hudson 6, Taylor 2, Delinois 2. Halftime: OEW 27-17. Three-pointers: Patrick 2, Lee, Tolbert. Fouled out: Saintigene. Technicals: None. Rebounds: Saintigene 20. Assists: Lee 4. Steals: Taylor 4. Blocks: Saintigene 8.