Just how cruel or rewarding a high school basketball state championship game can be came into clear focus on Saturday night.
That when a putback shot by Miami High center Colleen Bucknor hung on the rim as the buzzer sounded. If it goes in, the Stingarees are state champions. If it doesn’t? Runnerups.
The ball fell off to the side.
And with that, Stingaree players collapsed to the ground in stunned dejection while players from Port Orange Spruce Creek scrambled to the center of the floor celebrating wildly following their 44-43 win over Miami High in the Class 9A state championship game at the RP Funding Center.
“I managed to get the loose ball and knew we were down to a second or two so I just put it back up real quick and thought it was going to fall in and it just didn’t,” Bucknor said. “We worked so hard to get up here this year and …”
Bucknor couldn’t even finish. Like her teammates, she was too overcome with emotion to even audibly speak.
Even tougher to handle for Miami High players was that they were in complete control of the game at halftime, leading 27-17.
But Spruce Creek (27-5), a team that didn’t even win its own district, coming in the back door as a runnerup winning regional games on the road, wratched up the defensive pressure in a big way in the second half. And the Stingarees came unglued committing 11 turnovers while missing shots. They went from 10-of-18 shooting from the floor in the first half to 5 of 17 in the second.
“An awfully tough moment for sure, but we also put ourselves in that situation and never should have allowed them to get back in it,” said Miami High coach Sam Baumgarten. “We kind of folded in the third quarter and couldn’t put the ball in the hole. The girls, they have a tendency to doubt themselves at times and can lose confidence. Once they [Spruce Creek] started chipping away at our lead, it was like a snowball effect and it kept getting worse.”
Down by three (42-39) with a minute to go, Miami High (22-4) battled back in what turned out to be a frantic final 60 seconds.
Senior guard Janiffer Rodriguez found an open lane for a tough driving layup with 44 seconds left cutting the deficit to one. When Spruce Creek committed a huge turnover underneath the basket with 30 seconds left, the Stings were in business. Shekinah Rachel then got fouled with 16 seconds left and went to the line for two pressure packed shots and calmly drained them both giving Miami High a one point lead.
But Spruce Creek guard Peryonna Sylvester then drove the length of the floor, cut in toward the middle and drew a foul by Rachel with nine seconds left.
“A questionable call at best,” Baumgarten said.
Sylvester then cooly drilled both of her free throws leaving the Stings down one and with one last chance.
Rodriguez brought the ball up the floor, drove the middle and found Jeanine Scott wide open on the baseline for a clean-look 15-foot shot that bounced off the rim. Bucknor managed to come out of a scrum for the ball on the ground and put it back up only to watch it hang on the rim and harmlessly fall off to the side.
“When I brought it down and the idea was to try and drive the lane if I had it and maybe draw a foul,” said Rodriguez. “I spotted Jeanine wide open on the base line and dished it and she had a great look. When I saw Colleen come out with the ball and put it up, I thought it was going in. I can’t believe this happened. The toughest moment I’ve ever had to deal with.”
“We took our foot off the pedal in the second half,” said Bucknor who finished with 12 points and led all rebounders with 13. “We didn’t come out with the same intensity as the first half, allowed them to get back in it and paid the price.”
MHS: Bucknor 12, Rodriguez 12, Rachel 5, Whitley 5, Scott 4, Wilson 2, Ward 2, Gomez 1. SC: Sylvester 13, Adams 13, Tassent 10, Derrick 4, Hamilton 2, Gillard 2. Three pointers: Rodriguez 2, Tassent 2, Whitley, Scott, Adams. Rebounds: Bucknor 13. Assists: Whitley 3, Rodriguez 3. Steals: Adams 4. Half: MHS 27-17.