From the start, Miami Country Day’s girls’ basketball team hoped its season would end at Madison Square Garden.
On Saturday morning, the Spartans will get their wish.
Led by Kelsey Marshall’s clutch play down the stretch, Miami Country Day came back in the fourth quarter Friday to edge Gonzaga Prep 60-59 in a semifinal of the Dick’s Sporting Goods High School Nationals at Christ The King High School.
Marshall, a highly touted 5-9 sophomore guard, finished with 28 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter, and had nine rebounds for the Spartans (31-2), ranked No. 7 nationally by USA Today.
The win snapped a 50-game winning streak for Gonzaga Prep (27-1), a team out of Spokane, Washington, that is led by Gonzaga University-bound guard Laura Stockton, the daughter of NBA Hall of Famer John Stockton, who is an assistant coach at Gonzaga Prep.
Miami Country Day clinched a berth in the tournament final Saturday at 10 a.m. at Madison Square Garden and a matchup against a familiar opponent — Fort Lauderdale Dillard, which also won its semifinal Friday.
“My brother played in the Garden, and he would tell me this my time to show out,” Marshall said. “I felt in this game like I just needed to pick it up a bit. I always have a lot of confidence in my shot.”
Marshall scored the go-ahead bucket with less than 20 seconds remaining after stealing the ball at midcourt and surging to the basket. She also drew a foul on the play but missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free-throw situation.
Marshall made up for it with another takeaway that forced Gonzaga Prep to foul and put Michelle Berry at the line. Berry made 1 of 2 shots to give Country Day a 60-57 lead. Gonzaga Prep had one final three-point attempt that missed but put back the rebound at the buzzer for a meaningless two-point basket as time expired.
“I was a little nervous about the early start because my kids are notoriously slow starters, even in night games,” Miami Country Day coach Ochiel Swaby said. “We were sluggish at times and just didn’t react well to our scouting report.”
Whether it was the early start time or the 11/2-month layoff since they won the Florida Class 3A state title, the Spartans had to overcome an atrocious shooting start. Country Day made only one shot in 21 attempts in the first quarter and trailed 15-4 by the end of the period.
In the second, the Spartans shot 8 for 12 from the field and went to halftime tied at 27. Country Day went 8 for 18 from three-point range as Marshall hit four, and Michelle Berry and Lindsey Pierre each made two. Berry had 12 points, and Ogechi Anyagaligbo had six blocks and eight rebounds.
Miami Country Day enjoyed a second consecutive state championship and a top-10 national ranking during the season.
Both were meaningful accomplishments for a program taking steps to becoming a consistent national powerhouse.
But playing at Madison Square Garden for the closest thing the sport has to a national championship at the high school level had special appeal.
And Saturday morning, the Spartans will try to get a little payback, too.
Dillard (31-1), ranked No. 3 by USA Today, beat Miami Country Day 66-62 in the MLK Classic on Jan. 17.
“We played our entire season for this moment,” Swaby said. “Last year, we just missed getting invited to this event. We came back and scheduled the toughest teams possible so that if we would do well, we would get an invitation to this tournament.
“I’ve tried to tell them how special an opportunity this is, but I think they have to be there and experience it to realize it.”
GP (27-1): Harrington 8, Drynan 2, Weir 2, Stockton 16, Gildon 26, McDermott 5.
MCD (31-2): Lewis 10, Marshall 28, Anyagaligbo 3, Berry 12, Mackenzie 1, Pierre 6.
Half: Tied at 27. Fouled out: Harrington. Three-pointers: Marshall 4, Berry 2, Pierre 2, Harrington, McDermott. Rebounds: Gildon 19. Assists: Stockton 7. Steals: Stockton 4. Blocks: Anyagaligbo 6.