Miami Country Day took a moment to exhale Wednesday night.
And once the Spartans did, it was time to celebrate.
A season with very high expectations ended exactly the way Miami Country Day hoped following a 77-59 victory over Seffner Christian in the Class 3A state championship game at The Lakeland Center.
“I just feel so much relief,” Miami Country Day coach Ochiel Swaby said. “All season has been such a build-up to this that I don’t know what I would have done had we lost this game.”
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The Spartans (30-2), ranked No. 6 nationally by USA Today, made sure that wouldn’t happen, and as a result, secured a place among Miami-Dade County’s elite programs by winning a second state title in a row.
Miami Country Day joined Miami Edison, Miami Norland, Miami Monsignor Pace and Miami Northwest Christian as the only schools to win consecutive girls’ basketball state titles. Miami High has a chance to join the group this weekend if it can win its second Class 8A title in a row.
And the Spartans accomplished the feat collectively, something they did routinely this season a year after graduating star guard Danielle Minott, a Syracuse University signee.
Four players finished in double figures in scoring led by sophomore guard Channise Lewis’ 22 points. Lewis also had a game-high eight assists. Senior forward Michelle Berry had 15 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, sophomore guard Kelsey Marshall had 15 points and eighth-grader Maria Alvarez had 10 first-half points.
Country Day beat Seffner Christian (27-5) for the third consecutive season at state and second year in a row in the final. The win didn’t come as easy as Tuesday’s 36-point, semifinal blowout win over Clearwater Calvary Christian, however.
While the Spartans limited guard Chelsie Hall to nine points, forward Peyton Walker kept the Crusaders in the game with 23 points. But Country Day pulled away in the second half leading by as many as 21 late in the third quarter.
“It’s hard getting to the top, but it’s harder to stay there,” said forward Ogechi Anyagaligbo, one of four seniors on the roster. “That’s what this season was like for us. We lost a great player last season and some thought we couldn’t get it done without her. This team stayed hungry all season and got it done.”
Miami Country Day had not won a state championship as a school before its girls’ basketball team began its run of two consecutive titles. Another major accomplishment may be forthcoming.
Due to its high national ranking, the Spartans are a strong candidate to be invited to the annual National High School Invitational in New York. Miami High participated in the event last season when it earned a top 20 national ranking, and other local programs like Fort Lauderdale Dillard have been invited in recent years.
Dillard, which is playing for the Class 5A state title this weekend, dealt Country Day one of its two defeats this season and is another potential invitee.
“We’re hoping we get the invite to New York which would be great for us,” Swaby said. “We still have a lot of sophomores and freshmen that have competed at the high school level on this team so the goal will definitely be to win this again next season and strive for a high national ranking again.
“This team has the talent so we shouldn’t need to settle for anything less.”
MCD (30-2): Edwards 1, Berry 15, Alvarez 10, Lewis 22, Marshall 15, Mackenzie 4, Austin 2, Jackson 2, Anyagaligbo 6.
SC (27-5): Stephens 5, Walker 23, Reed 5, Parimore 2, Hall 9, Royster 5, Bartram 10.
Half: MCD 41-30. Fouled out: Anyagaligbo, Marshall. Three-pointers: Walker 3, Bartram 3, Marshall 3, Alvarez 2, Reed, Royster, Mackenzie. Rebounds: Berry 10. Assists: Lewis 8. Steals: Berry 3. Blocks: Anyagaligbo 2.
State girls’ basketball finals
When: Through Saturday.
Where: The Lakeland Center, 701 W. Lime St., Lakeland.
Admission: $10 per session; Parking: $8.
Wednesday’s results – Class 1A semifinals: Wildwood 45, Hilliard 30; Freeport 72, Paxon 49; Class 3A final: Miami Country Day 77, Seffner Christian 59; Class 4A final: Orlando Lake Highland Prep vs. Fort Myers Dunbar, inc.
Thursday’s schedule – Class 1A final: Wildwood vs. Freeport, noon; Class 2A final: Boca Grandview Prep vs. Tallahassee FAMU, 3:35; Class 7A semifinals: Haines City vs. Wekiva Apopka, 7; Fort Myers vs. Palm Beach Lakes, 8:30.
Friday’s schedule – Class 8A semifinals: Orlando Colonial vs. Flagler Palm Coast, 10 a.m.; Miami High vs. Boca Raton, 11:30 a.m.; Class 6A semifinals: Winter Haven vs. Pensacola Pine Forest, 2:30; Miami Norland vs. Naples Barron Collier, 4; Class 5A semifinals: Land O’ Lakes vs. Jacksonville Paxon, 7; Fort Lauderdale Dillard vs. Bradenton Southeast, 8:30.
Saturday’s schedule – Class 7A final: 10:05 a.m.; Class 8A final: 1:35; Class 6A final: 5:05; Class 5A final: 8:35.