Ferguson had already experienced the jubilation of making it to state.
But until Friday night, the Falcons’ girls’ basketball team had not earned the chance to celebrate it with their fans.
Ferguson’s student section poured onto its home court once the final buzzer sounded on a 52-34 victory over Miami High in the Region 4-9A final that sent the Falcons to the state semifinals for the second consecutive season.
Ferguson (24-7) clinched its first trip to state last season on Miami High’s home court, snapping the Stingarees’ run of two consecutive state titles and three trips in a row to Lakeland.
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The Falcons will take on Wekiva next Friday at either 4 or 6 p.m. in a Class 9A semifinal at The Lakeland Center. Boca Raton will take on Orlando Olympia in the other semifinal.
“I’ll be honest the last time we played them here in 2015 we left the court heartbroken after going to triple overtime when they had a great player like Beatrice Mompremier,” said Ferguson coach Gabriel Lazo, a Miami High alumnus who has guided the Falcons to their first GMAC and district titles and trips to state in his five seasons as head coach. “This was pretty special tonight for us.”
The Falcons put away the fourth consecutive meeting between the girls’ basketball rivals in the second half thanks to another balanced effort.
Sheslanie Laureano led all scorers with 19 points and had two blocks. Natalia Pineda poured in 16 points and had four steals.
But Ferguson collectively continued to step up in the absence of center Cheyanne Daniels, who was lost for the season with a knee injury just before the playoffs.
Yaire Rodriguez finished with only six points, but had five assists and four steals while Mercy Gonzalez had eight points, eight rebounds and three blocks.
Miami High, which was led by freshman forward Colleen Bucknor’s 10 points, took a brief 12-11 lead to end the first quarter before Ferguson took the lead for good in the second quarter.
“We came out here confident and did what we know how to do,” Pineda said. “They were trying to pressure us a lot in the first half so we just had to relax and play our style of game.”
FER (24-7): Laureano 19, Gonzalez 8, Y. Rodriguez 6, Kingwood 2, Pineda 16, A. Rodriguez 1. MHS (19-8): Whitley 6, Perez 3, Rodriguez 3, Scott 5, Weldon 2, Bucknor 10, Wilson 2, Rachel 3. Half: FER 27-20. Technical: Gonzalez. Fouled out: Whitley, Pineda. Three-pointers: Pineda 2, Laureano. Rebounds: Gonzalez 8. Assists: Y. Rodriguez 5. Steals: Pineda, Y. Rodriguez 4. Blocks: Gonzalez 3.
▪ Region 4-5A Final - Cardinal Gibbons 55, Gulliver 45: Senior Ayanna Armstead said Cardinal Gibbons has been haunted by its state seminal loss since it departed the Lakeland Center on Feb. 13, 2016.
The Chiefs earned the right to avenge that defeat, beating Gulliver Prep in the region 4-5A championship.
“Ever since we walked out of the Lakeland Center,” said Armstead who had 11 points. “We knew what we had to do. We came back and did it again.”
The Chiefs (20-6) initially struggled with the Raiders’ (21-11) size on the glass, before Emma Krause took over.
Krause scored 14 points, with eight in the first half, despite dealing with foul trouble. Mikaela Pierre scored a game-high 15 points and provided nasty defense for the Chiefs.
Gibbons faces Florida High or Fernadina Beach in a 5A state semifinal.
CG: Krause 14, Armstead 11, Pierre 15, Mergilles 6, Antoine 5, Fox 4; GP: Thomas 14, Kunkel 13, Kaiser 6, Haymore 6, Kaplan 3, Pinder 2, Tyre 1. Three-pointers: Kunkel 4, Kaiser 2, Kaplan, Armstead. Half: Cardinal Gibbons 29-23.
▪ Region 6A Final - American Heritage 54, Leesburg 48: After a heartbreaking loss in last year’s regional final, American Heritage can finally celebrate. The Patriots (27-2) are going to the state tournament after defeating Leesburg (24-6) in the Region 6A final at home.
The Patriots were led by senior guard Skyla Osceola, who scored 22 points and 14 assists in the winning effort.
“Last year we cried in the locker room, but today we can celebrate,” American Heritage coach Greg Farias said. “
American Heritage held the lead — albeit a fragile one — for most of the game, with Leesburg staying within striking distance thanks to senior forward Keshawn Johnson, who scored most of her team-high 22 points in the paint.
The Patriots will now face Ribault in the state semifinals.
AMHS: Osceola 22, Smith 14, Funeus 10, Moncrief 4, T. Stubbs 3, Lindo 1. LEE: Johnson 22, Balchen 6, Graham 6, Bagle 10, Sceal 4. Halftime: AMHS 24-21. Steals: Smith 8, Lindo 6. Rebounds: Funeus 14, Moncrief 13. Assists: Osceola 14. Three-pointers: Osceola 3.
▪ Region 3-9A final - Boca Raton 70, Douglas 55: The dream season for the Douglas girls basketball saw it hope for its first state final four appearance come to an end.
Grace Marko scored 26 points to lead Boca Raton over Douglas in a Class 9A regional final in Parkland.
It marks the third straight year the Bobcats (25-6) have advanced to the state tournament. For Douglas (27-3) this was their first appearance in a regional final in schools history.
“Regardless of the outcome of this game we are winners and this will only help us in the future,” Douglas coach Marilyn Rule said. “We are looking forward to the off season.
These kids have played well together and I’m so proud of them.”
Once Boca took the lead at 20-19 with 2:32 left in the first half, they never looked back.
BR (25-6): Ramsey 4-0-8, Gaudette 0-1-1, Levy 7-2-18, Alfieri 1-0-2, Pratt 5-2-15 Marko 10-4-26, Mingo 1-0-2.
D (27-3): Thompson 6-1-13, Balderamma 4-2-11, Murphy 3-1-7, Crawford 1-0-2, Williams 3-0-7, Hsu 3-6-15.
3-pointers: Levy 2, Marko 3, Hsu 3. Balderamma, Williams. Half: BR 25-21