Miami High senior guard Amanda Mendoza celebrated as Stingarees’ fans crowded the home court this past Saturday night.
It was the home court finale for Mendoza, one of five seniors along with Melsheree Reid, Terri Kimbrough, Antranae Alvin and Jeanette Dukes who have brought the Stingarees back to elite status.
Mendoza enjoyed the moment but hopes to write the real final chapter this weekend at The Lakeland Center by holding that elusive state championship trophy.
“We wanted to win big at home [Saturday] in our last game, and it was emotional, but we’re mentally prepared for who we’re playing next,” Mendoza said. “We want to go out with a bang.”
A year after coming up one victory short of the title as an underdog, Miami High heads back to Lakeland in a completely different role.
The Stingarees (29-1) are having their best season ever and one that mirrors some of the many memorable campaigns in the rich history of their boys’ counterparts.
They are ranked No. 21 nationally by USA Today, No. 1 in the state and a clear favorite in a bracket that includes three other teams making their state final four debuts.
All that remains is finishing the job, something Miami High hopes to do starting Friday when it takes on Sanford Seminole at 8:30 p.m. in a Class 8A state semifinal.
Miami High coach Sam Baumgarten, who became the team’s coach in 2009, but has coached the team several prior seasons with his parents, Jeanette, Sam and brother, Nicholas, guided the Stingarees to their lone state championship in 2005.
Even that season, Miami High was not a clear favorite, winning a triple-overtime thriller against Deerfield Beach to seal the championship.
But with junior center Beatrice Mompremier, the top-rated junior in the state and one of the best in the nation leading the way, Miami High has an edge in experience in this year’s tournament.
Mompremier enters state averaging 13.1 points and 12.6 rebounds per game.
Miami High has been successful by balancing its overall game to not solely rely on Mompremier’s post play. Mendoza is one of the best shooters in the county, shooting 40 percent from three-point range and averaging 10.6 points per game.
Reid, who made two last-second, game-winning shots in last year’s playoffs, including a buzzer-beater to beat Colonial in the state semifinals, has become more of an offensive factor and is averaging 10.3 points per game.
Kimbrough, in addition to becoming another three-point shooting threat, has been one of the team’s most dependable players, averaging 7.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game.
“Everybody says our team is Amanda and Beatrice, and it’s not,” Baumgarten said. “Those girls keep us in the game, and they make big shots.”
Seminole (27-4) had never been to state before this season. It reached Lakeland by defeating Apopka in the regional final, which ousted defending state champion Orlando Dr. Phillips in the previous round. The Seminoles have a relatively young team with five sophomores and only three seniors.
Should Miami High advance it would play either Lake Worth Park Vista (25-4) or Treasure Coast (20-6) in the final Saturday night at 8:30 p.m.
Park Vista (25-4) had not won a regional playoff game before this season and is also a young team that has only one senior.
Treasure Coast (20-6) defeated Orlando Colonial, a state semifinalist last season, in the regional quarterfinals and has a lineup that could give Miami High some trouble if the teams played each other.
Treasure Coast is led by 5-10 senior point guard Rosemarie Julien, a Florida Atlantic University signee, and has a pair of 6-foot junior forwards in Alexis Jean and Evelyn Sagner. Jean is averaging more than 14 points and 14 rebounds per game.