In order to make a serious run to a state championship, the American girls’ basketball team knew it had to take on some of the state’s best teams during the regular season.
On Monday night, the Patriots overcame another tough obstacle on the road.
Led by Ebony Griffin’s 15 points and 20 rebounds and Maikala McCloud’s 18 points, American knocked off Ferguson 53-45 on the road in a battle of two of Miami-Dade County’s top-ranked teams.
The Patriots (18-2), ranked No. 4 in The Miami Herald’s South Florida Top 10 poll, trailed by two at halftime and took the lead for good in the fourth quarter behind some key steals by McCloud in the final four minutes.
“The girls really got after it and the difference was our toughness down the stretch,” American coach Paul Torres said. “Ferguson has been scoring machine most of the season so to hold them to 45 points was a big accomplishment for us.”
The Patriots defeated their fifth state-ranked opponent of the season in a year in which they have only lost single-digit contests to nationally ranked Miami High and Orlando Lake Highland Prep.
Rebounding was a big key on Monday as it has been for American most of the season.
D’Ajanae Smith finished with nine points and 12 rebounds to complement the overall effort.
“It took me a little while to get to know this team with Maikala McCloud coming in this season and Griffin,” Torres said. “This team refuses to lose. We seem to not want to lose. Even our two losses could have easily been wins, but there’s no quit in these girls.”
Ferguson (17-3), ranked No. 3 entering the week by The Miami Herald, is the top seed in District 15-8A and figures to be one of the county’s strongest challengers to make it to state this season along with top-ranked Miami High.
American has clinched the top seed in its district and looks to be a big contender to reach state this season in Class 7A. One of the Patriots’ biggest obstacles figures to be Davie Nova, which advanced to Lakeland last season before losing in the state final.
American takes on another of the state’s best this weekend when it plays Lake Worth in the MLK Classic.
AM (18-2): McCloud 18, Griffin 15, Smith 9, Jones 6, David 5. FER (17-3): Osceola 15, Johnson 11, Dejesus 10, Gonzalez 9.