LAKELAND -- Even after four years of stepping on to the Lakeland Center court, Dillard senior forward Kayla Wright still gets butterflies.
“I still do a little bit,” said Wright, a Tulsa University signee who has been a part of three state championship teams during her career. “But once the clock starts, it all goes away.”
Dillard’s girls’ basketball team may have felt a little bit of those nerves in the opening moments of Friday’s Class 5A state semifinal against St. Johns Bartram Trail.
It didn’t take long for them to squash that feeling and Bartram Trail in a 62-25 victory at The Lakeland Center.
Dillard (27-2) will attempt to win its fourth consecutive state championship 10 a.m. Saturday when it plays St. Petersburg Lakewood – the team the Panthers defeated in last year’s semifinals. Dillard also beat Bartram Trail in last year’s state championship game.
“I think [winning] is expected [in our program],” Wright said. “We have the talent to keep winning. The tradition is a big part of it.”
Dillard can become only the second Broward County team to win four consecutive state championships. A victory would also give the Panthers their county-best eighth state title and put them one behind Jacksonville Ribault, which won its ninth state title Thursday. Ribault also is the only team in state history to win five titles in a row.
Dillard coach Marcia Pinder, the winningest coach in state history, said she is keeping her team centered on the task at hand.
“We’re not chasing any records,” Pinder said. “We’re just worried about finishing.”
After playing to a 9-9 stalemate with 2:38 remaining in the first quarter, Dillard finished Bartram Trail with its physicality and sharp long-range shooting.
The Panthers used a 22-0 run that carried over into a second quarter in which they outscored the Bears 27-3 to take a 42-12 advantage at halftime.
Until Bartram Trail’s Sarah Ragland connected on a jumper with 7:03 left in the third quarter, Dillard had outscored Bartram Trail 37-3 over a span of 11 minutes and 35 seconds.
Wright’s layup 5:32 left in the third quarter forced a running clock for the remainder of the game.
Wright finished with a game-high 16 points, a game-high four steals, six rebounds and two blocks. Senior Ja’Coreyah Clayton found rhythm from outside making 3 of 5 three-point shots to finish with 13 points. Eva Myers also finished with nine points and four assists.
Dillard also got a chance to play several of its reserves once the game was in a running clock. The Panthers’ bench combined for 18 points led by Destiny Frazier’s six.
“I’m glad we got a chance to put that one behind us,” Pinder said. “We started a little shaky trying to get everyone involved and overplaying. Defensively, when you do it the right way good things happen I think at the beginning we were greedy and it just didn’t work. They settled down and started moving and trapping and finishing on the offensive end.”
DIL (27-2): Anderson 4, Clayton 13, Myers 9, Parson 2, Wright 16, Burns 4, Frazier 6, Green 4, Johnson 2, Wilks 2.
BT (20-8): Barlow 6, King 2, Ragland 13, Borngesser 2, Terrano 2. Half: DIL 42-12. Three-pointers: Clayton 3, Myers, Barlow. Rebounds: Ragland 13. Assists: Myers 4. Steals: Wright 4.