After suffering four losses by a combined seven points during out-of-town tournaments, the Ferguson girls’ basketball team was determined to get it right this time.
And that’s exactly what the Falcons did on Saturday night. Taking on nationally ranked Bolingbrook High from the Chicago area, the Falcons, after three quarters of ice cold shooting and turnovers, overcame an eight-point deficit with less than six minutes left to rally for a 52-45 win and capture the Junior Orange Bowl Basketball Classic at Palmetto High School.
It looked like Miami-Dade County would make it a clean sweep of the tournament in the late game when South Miami took a 49-35 lead over Bullis High (Potomac, Maryland) into the fourth quarter. But the Cobras went cold and Bullis got hot as it rallied for a 80-71 win in overtime to take the boys’ championship.
“I just kept telling them in the huddle at each time to just stay with it and stay with it and eventually it would come,” Ferguson coach Tom Jicha said. “We lean on our full-court press to create turnovers, but you have to score in order to do that, and we were struggling for the longest time. Once we started putting points on the board that allowed us to apply our full-court press, which created the turnovers that allowed us to come back and win it. These girls are a determined bunch and showed it on the floor out there tonight.”
Jicha, who took over the team this season when Gabe Lazo left for an assistant coaching post for the FIU women’s team, could only watch helplessly as his team went ice cold in the second quarter, scoring just two points and trailing 20-13 at the break. In fact, it was the 4:47 mark of the third before the Falcons (10-4) finally scored and by then had dug themselves a 26-13 hole.
Still down 41-33 with 5:48 left and one of the team’s best players, Shelanie Laureano, on the bench with an injured ankle, determined Falcons players, led by Natalia Pineda and freshman Amari Hunter, stormed back.
Pineda finished with a game-high 23 points on 8-of-17 shooting from the floor and 5 of 6 from the free throw line, and Hunter finished with 15 points, most of those coming from the free-thrown line as she nailed 9 of 12 from the charity stripe, many of those down the stretch.
“No matter what the score is and no matter how bad things are, we never ever quit and that paid off for us tonight,” said Pineda, who was named the tournament MVP. “The first half was incredibly frustrating for us because nothing would go in, but we knew that if we just stayed with it, eventually things would turn out way.”
And her old coach was there to watch it from the stands as Lazo, following an FIU women’s home victory over Vermont, rushed over to the game to watch his old team.
“Love it, this a special group of girls with big things still in front of them,” said Lazo, whose team suffered two incredibly painful losses at state each of the past two years, including a one-point loss to Boca Raton on a three-point shot at the buzzer in last year’s state final.
“The pain of that is what drives us right now,” Pineda said. “We want to get back up there [Lakeland] and get it right, and coming back to win a game like this tonight is what will help us down the stretch.”
In the boys’ final, South Miami (10-2) jumped out to an early lead on Bullis and maintained a double-digit margin throughout and led by 14 headed to the fourth.
But the combination of Chris Menendez and Lee Flenor fouling out and the red-hot shooting of Bullis guard Frevado “Vado” Morse doomed the Cobras, who actually rallied from a 64-60 deficit in the final 40 seconds of regulation, forcing overtime on a Markeis Danon putback layup with 15 seconds left.
But South Miami had no answer for Morse, a Mount Saint Mary commit who finished with a game-high 41 points, 30 of them coming after the third (18 in the fourth and 12 in OT) as he hit 5 of 9 shots from beyond the arc.
“We just couldn’t close it out,” South Miami coach Robert Doctor said. “Losing Chris [Menendez] and Lee [Flenor] really put us behind the eight ball and then double zero [Morse’s number] just went crazy on us. We’ll learn from this.”
Adianez (Puerto Rico) 58, Miami High 44: The Lady Stingarees took a 28-20 lead to the locker room at halftime but couldn’t sustain the momentum, getting outscored 38-16 in the second half by the girls from Puerto Rico and settled for a fourth-place finish. Jannifer Rodriguez and Colleen Bucknor led the way for Miami High (10-3) with 15 and 10 points, respectively.
Roman Catholic (PA) 70, Palmetto 63: After giving up the first nine points of the fourth quarter, Palmetto found itself trailing Roman Catholic High School (from the Philadelphia area) 54-43. But the Panthers (9-5) fought back, cutting RC’s lead to two with two minutes left before fading down the stretch. Josmel Martinez (17 points) led the way for Palmetto (9-5), and Jovan Debrito (12) Danielo Castellano (11) and Jordan Hamburger (11) all scored in double figures.