7A: Winter Haven Advances to Final
Winter Haven girls basketball coach Johnny Lawson wants his team to play fast.
So when the Blue Devils came out a little sluggish to start the Class 7A semifinal game against South Broward, he asked his team to pick up the pace.
It did. The No. 1-ranked Blue Devils used a 16-0 run to erase a six-point deficit and went on to defeat South Broward, 66-53, earning a spot in today’s Class 7A state championship game in the FHSAA Girls Basketball State Finals. They will face Lakewood Ranch at 4:05 p.m., at The Lakeland Center.
The Blue Devils, who are making their 14th state finals appearance in 17 years, are back in the championship game for the first time since 2011. They will be shooting for their third state championship. They also won titles in 2006 and 2008.
The key to Winter Haven speeding the game up against South Broward on Friday was pressure defense, Lawson said.
“They looked a little tired (in the first quarter) and they said, ‘That floor’s huge,’” Lawson said, “but after they wound down and understood that we were going to pressure, I thought we started getting some good pressure.”
South Broward (25-6) led 18-12 early in the second quarter when the Blue Devils started their run. Diamond Battles, who finished with 19 points and five steals, and Sharajah Collins led the way combining for 12 points during the 16-0 run.
“That run was really important,” Battles said. “It gave us a lot more confidence. We were little sluggish in the first quarter. We weren’t used to the court yet, but once the first quarter was over we came out with more confidence and intensity.”
And speeding the game up impacted the way South Broward wanted to play, said South Broward’s Mackenzie Sadaka.
“They got a lot of offensive rebounds and I think they sped us up a little more than we wanted to,” Sadaka said of the run that gave Winter Haven a 28-18 lead late in the first half.
It wasn’t a matter of trying to speed up the Bulldogs, Lawson said. It was more a matter of Winter Haven playing its game.
“We talk about tempo, tempo, tempo,” Lawson said. “It’s not to speed them up, we just like to play fast. It works for us, speeding the other team up, but we just like to play fast.”
The Bulldogs cut that to 28-24 at the half and got as close as one point, 30-28, before a pair of baskets by Chrisana Scott – a 2-pointer and a 3-pointer – gave the Blue Devils a little more breathing room. Scott finished with 14 points.
Winter Haven (25-3) also utilized their size inside where Maddison Wells and Tyia Singleton combined for 23 points and 19 rebounds. Wells had 16 points and seven rebounds while Singleton had seven points and 13 rebounds.
The Blue Devils built their lead back to nine, 45-36, heading into the fourth quarter and eventually to 15 points, 60-45, with less than four minutes to play.
Today, the Blue Devils will face a Lakewood Ranch team that they beat in their regular-season finale, 46-45, in overtime.
“They’re a really interesting team,” Lawson said. “The big kid (LaDazhia Williams) makes them go but they have unsung heroes.”
Lakewood Ranch advanced with a 47-29 win over Niceville.
SOUTH BROWARD (53): Alexis McClain 1-4 0-0 2, Natalia Leaks 8-19 4-5 20, Mackenzie Sadaka 4-8 0-0 9, Michelle Wright 2-6 2-2 8, Shante Walker 4-14 3-6 12, Rabiyah Bell 1-1 0-0 2, Tacoria Burgess 0-0 0-0 0, Lauryn Edema 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-53 9-13 53.
WINTER HAVEN (66): Tyia Singleton 3-7 1-3 7, Maddison Wells 6-15 4-4 16, Diamond Battles 8-15 2-2 19, Chrisana Scott 5-13 3-4 14, Sharajah Collins 3-6 1-2 8, Melijah Sullivan 0-1 0-0 0, Jayla Atmore 0-0 0-0 0, Melody Brewington 0-0 2-2 2, Zakiyah Franklin 0-1 0-0 0, Melissa Sam 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 25-60 13-17 66.
South Broward 16 8 12 17 – 53
Winter Haven 12 16 17 21 – 66
3-point FGs: SB 4-13 (Leaks 0-1, Sadaka 1-3, Wright 2-5, Walker 1-4), WH 3-14 (Wells 0-2, Battles 1-4, Scott 1-5, Collins 1-3). Fouled out: Sadaka. Assists: SB 6 (Walker 3), WH 14 (Battles 4). Rebounds: SB 36 (McClain 9), WH 36 (Singleton 13). Steals: SB 9, WH 11. Turnovers: SB 22, WH 16. Records: SB 25-6, WH 25-3.