LAKELAND -- Nova has delivered clutch performances in close games throughout the playoffs.
On Friday, the Titans did it again and moved within one victory of what would be their first state girls’ basketball championship.
Kiani Lurry’s perfect free-throw shooting and 10 fourth-quarter points helped the Titans hold off Haines City for a 47-44 win in a Class 7A state semifinal at The Lakeland Center.
Nova (22-7) advances to play Gainesville Buchholz on Saturday at 5 p.m. in what will be its first state championship game appearance since 2009.
“They did an incredible job again of finding a way to win just like we did the past three games,” Nova coach Jason Hively said. “We told them we had to be all in and have no regrets.”
Lurry finished with 20 points and went 10 for 10 at the free-throw line, which helped Nova survive in a game in which it committed 23 turnovers. The Titans forced 19 turnovers, including a huge steal by Deja Roberts that helped Nova hike the lead to 45-40 on two free throws by Lurry.
“I just took a couple of deep breaths every time and wiped the sweat off my hands and just took the shots,” Lurry said.
Haines City wasn’t finished, though.
Haines City guard Ja’Deshia Johnson made a layup, stole the following inbounds pass and scored again to cut Nova’s lead to 45-44 with 26 seconds left. Lurry drew another foul driving to the basket with 14 seconds remaining.
Qushonda Florence’s desperation three-pointer from the top of the key bounced off the rim, and the rebound was tipped to Bernadette DeVaney as time expired.
DeVaney, who scored 20 points in each of Nova’s regional wins and hit the winning shot in a 56-53 win against Palm Beach Lakes this past Saturday in the Region 4-7A final, had 12 points and three steals.
DeVaney hit a pair of timely three-pointers, including one to start the third quarter that gave Nova its first lead after a first half in which it shot 5 for 18 (27.8 percent).
The Titans held Haines City to 6-for-26 shooting in the first half, however, and never relinquished the lead following DeVaney’s three-pointer.
“After struggling in the first quarter, we found a way to finally get it going offensively,” Hively said. “I just told them we have to keep it close, and we did a good job of that. We took control in the third quarter with the press, and that helped us loosen up and play much better.”
Nova went without a field goal after Lurry’s layup gave it a 40-35 lead with 2:59 remaining in the fourth. Haines City twice cut the lead to one by quickly scoring, and then stealing the ball and scoring again in transition.
Brekia Henderson made a three-pointer and then following a steal, converted a layup to cut the lead to 41-40. Nova then threw an errant pass in the backcourt, giving Haines City (28-5) the ball with 1:19 left.
But on the ensuing possession, Johnson was called for a three-second violation. Lurry drew a foul on the next possession and made both free throws.
HC (28-5): Henderson 14, Akins 6, Johnson 12, Brown 12. NOVA (22-7): Cowart 2, DeVaney 12, Roberts 4, Lurry 20, English-Lurry 7, Corazza 2. Half: HC 14-12. Fouled out: Reddick, Akins. Three-pointers: DeVaney 2, Henderson, Brown. Rebounds: Brown 13. Assists: English-Lurry 4. Steals: Johnson 6.