LAKELAND -- Every pass and every shot seemed to be finding the mark for Nova in the first quarter Saturday night at The Lakeland Center.
The Titans’ elusive state girls’ basketball championship appeared within reach.
That was until Gainesville Buchholz and senior guard Jessica Thomas ripped it away over the next three quarters.
Nova was unable to contain Thomas, a University of Miami signee, as she scored a game-high 26 points and helped Buchholz deal the Titans a 63-49 defeat in the Class 7A state championship game.
“We expended a lot of energy in that first quarter building that lead,” Nova coach Jason Hively said. “That’s the thing about Buchholz is that they run you up and down the court.”
Nova (22-8) led 20-6 after the first quarter and shot 53 percent as a team during that period.
Thomas scored 13 consecutive points for Buchholz (28-4) including its first 11 of the second quarter to help the Bobcats back in the game. Buchholz turned up its defensive pressure and forced eight Nova turnovers in the quarter and limited the Titans to 2 of 7 shooting and only five points.
Buchholz took the lead with 1:30 remaining in the second quarter on a jumper by freshman center Keona Thompson. Nova never got the lead back.
Thomas finished with 64 combined points for the tournament leading Buchholz to its first state championship.
“[Thomas] is great at controlling the pace for them,” Hively said. “We were pressing and doubling, but she was still able to control. There’s no doubt she was the MVP of this tournament.”
Junior guard Bernadette DeVaney and Trellanie English-Lurry scored back-to-back baskets with 3:08 remaining in the third quarter to close the gap to 37-36. Buchholz used a 9-2 run to close the period and quell Nova’s momentum.
The Bobcats limited DeVaney, who had been a key part of Nova’s run to state, to only seven points through three quarters. DeVaney finished with 13 points. Kiani Lurry had 12 points and nine rebounds.
“The way we came out in the first quarter, I think we got a taste of our own medicine in the second quarter,” DeVaney said. “We needed to calm down and play our own game and we didn’t do that.”
The Titans, who reached the state tournament for the third time in five seasons, graduate only two seniors and return their entire starting lineup.
“This experience definitely will help us going forward,” DeVaney said. “We know what it takes to prepare for this type of game now.”
BUC (28-4): Thompson 8, Thomas 26, Rollins 18, Mounds 4, Clark 4, Noble 3. NOV (22-8): Cowart 8, DeVaney 13, Roberts 4, Lurry 12, English-Lurry 8, Corazza 4. Half: B 27-25. Three-pointers: DeVaney 2, English-Lurry 2, Thomas 2. Rebounds: Thompson 16. Assists: Thomas, DeVaney 5. Steals: Thomas 4.