LAKELAND -- Danielle Minott kept her game face on long after the final buzzer.
“They were telling me ‘Don’t cry, don’t cry,’” Miami Country Day’s senior sparkplug said Wednesday evening. “So OK, I’m not going cry, not going to smile, not going to do anything.”
Minott was pretty resolute about it, too, until that state championship trophy was placed in her hands. Raising it high above her head, she finally let the Lakeland Center see a broad smile.
The Class 3A title that had slipped away last year now belongs to the Spartans, reaching the summit with a 65-51 triumph over Seffner Christian in which Minott found herself stymied, but her teammates firmly picked up the slack.
“I’m just glad I have a supporting cast to pick up from where I left off,” said Minott, held to just six points.
Instead, it was the youngest Spartan who set the tone in the opening moments.
Seventh-grader Maria Alvarez stunned Seffner Christian with four three-pointers in the first six minutes, helping Country Day sprint out to a 15-point lead that proved too much for the Crusaders to overcome.
“I just felt like everything was going good for me,” said Alvarez, who finished with 15 points.
So did coach Ochiel Swaby when he saw that Seffner Christian was leaving her open on the wing. “Then the first one went down, and I knew it meant a lot to her confidence. I was excited.”
Country Day (26-3) takes home its first state championship in the school’s 75-year history — not just in girls’ basketball, but any sport. The Spartans also have produced strong teams in water polo and soccer over the years, but none that made it to the very top.
“To be the first to get that done really means a lot to us,” Swaby said.
More importantly, Wednesday’s result finally removed the bad taste of a year ago, when the Spartans reached the 3A title game but let slip a seven-point lead in the final quarter of a 44-40 loss to Daytona Beach Father Lopez.
“I just didn’t want to be a two-time loser in the state championship game,” said freshman guard Channise Lewis, who recorded 15 points and six assists. “I just kept that in the back of my mind — ‘I’m not going to lose this game, I’m not going to lose this game.’ ”
For Minott, the Spartans’ only senior, it went one further.
“I just didn’t want to be a three-time loser,” she said, noting her trip to the 2012 title game with now-shuttered Parkway Academy.
Minott’s final act was a rough one, though, as Seffner Christian’s collapsing defense held her to just 3-for-10 shooting. The Syracuse signee remained scoreless until 2:37 left in the third, when she shook loose to convert under the basket.
“If you had told me this morning that we could hold [Minott] to six points and lose the game,” Crusaders coach Greg Fawbush said, “I would have told you that you were crazy.”