Experience came through when it counted most Saturday night for the Cardinal Gibbons girls’ basketball team.
A starting lineup that has remained intact for nearly two seasons didn’t play its prettiest game by any stretch against visiting Miami Booker T. Washington in the Region 4-4A final.
But it executed perfectly in the closing seconds to secure a 33-30 comeback win that sent the Chiefs (22-4) to the state final four for the first time since 2000.
“This is a dream come true for these girls,” said Gibbons coach Kevin Gordon, who is in his eighth season with the Chiefs. “We may not be the most talented team, but this team showed their resilience [Saturday] and how much their character has grown over the past couple of years.”
With the score tied at 30 and 6.5 seconds left, junior guard Ayanna Armstead threw the ball in bounds to sophomore guard Deja Antoine, running a play designed for Gibbons’ leading scorer. The Tornadoes (20-7) were ready for it and quickly covered Antoine. But the lane opened up and Antoine hit a driving Armstead for the go-ahead layup with 3.4 seconds left.
Armstead drew a foul, made the subsequent free throw and moments later celebrated as Booker T. was unable to even the score as time expired.
“When I saw the play develop, I just knew I had to go to the basket,” Armstead said. “It’s a blessing because everything we worked for has led to this.”
Gibbons, whose entire starting five have GPAs over 3.0 according to Gordon, will play Orlando’s Lake Highland Prep on Wednesday at either 1 p.m. or 2:30 p.m. in a Class 4A state semifinal at The Lakeland Center.
Booker T. Washington’s best season in school history, which included its first two regional playoff wins, ended painfully short of what would have been its first trip to state.
Gibbons trailed 28-21 early in the fourth quarter during what was mostly a hard-fought, error-filled, defensive battle. The Chiefs finished the game on a 12-2 surge as they took a 29-28 lead following an 8-0 run that ended with less than three minutes left.
Senior Michelle Cohen keyed the comeback with four of those points and finished with eight points.
Antoine finished with 11 points and Armstead finished with eight points and eight rebounds. No one scored in double figures for Booker T. but guard Mia Leite finished with eight points. Leite, however, was held scoreless by Gibbons in the second half.
BTW (20-7): Manhertz 3, Durant 7, Leite 8, Goodwin 2, Pressley 3, Paulette 7. CG (22-4): Gregos 2, Tumminello 4, Cohen 8, Armstead 8, Antoine 11. Half: BTW 18-15. Three-pointers: Tumminello, Antoine, Manhertz, Durant, Leite. Rebounds: Armstead 8.
▪ Region 4-3A final — Miami Country Day 70, Palmer Trinity 20: Two-time reigning state champion Miami Country Day is returning to Lakeland. The Spartans annihilated host Palmer Trinity for a chance at a third consecutive state title.
The Spartans led 53-7 at halftime after going on a 41-1 run to blow the game open. Miami Country Day (24-6) has eliminated Palmer Trinity (15-5) from the regional playoffs four of the past five years.
“It was very energetic. We were all hoping to make it to states,” said Samantha Provenzano, who ended the first half with 14 points and seven steals.
The Spartans’ suffocating press defense forced Palmer Trinity into 29 turnovers — 23 in the first half — and held the Falcons to just six field goals for the game.
Said Spartans guard Channise Lewis: “For sure, yeah,” it was difficult staying focused in the blowout.
“We came into the game confident that we were probably going to get the win,” added Lewis, who finished with 14 points, four steals and three assists.
Miami Country Day will face Seffner Christian in the state semifinals in Lakeland on Tuesday. The Spartans have beaten the Crusaders three consecutive years in the state playoffs, with the previous two matchups in the championship game.
“It’s the fourth year in a row. I saw them on film a little bit. I liked [Seffner’s] look,” Miami Country Day coach Ochiel Swaby said. “They seem to have an established style. It’s going to be a good game for us.”
MCD: Lewis 14, Provenzano 14, Maria Alvarez 10, Lindsey Pierre 8, Marsha Edwards 7, Dashaun Jackson 5, Kelsey Marshall 4, Jordan Fishman 2. PT: Keelfin Herling 8, Kyrah James 6, Ally Esco 4, Alissa Dobrieusky 2. Half: MCD 53-7. Rebounds: Edwards 10. Assists: Marshall 6. Steals: Provenzano 7.
▪ Region 3-3A final — Community School of Naples 43, Westminster Academy 23: The host Lions (22-6) had nothing to pout about after falling to the superior Seahawks. The run to regional finals was their deepest since 2004.
Westminster Academy did it in its second season since returning to an FHSAA classification after a stint as an independent.
“Our main goal was to win a district championship and we did that. Then to reach regional finals is awesome, especially for our seniors,” Westminster coach Shannon Wallhoff said.
Georgia signee Stephanie Paul of Community School (25-2) proved to be too much for Westminster to handle, with 25 points and eight rebounds despite sitting for a large portion of the second half with foul trouble. The Lions were also sunk by buzzer-beating three-pointers at the end of the second and third quarters.
Junior Raquel Rosa led Westminster with nine points and nine rebounds. Seventh-grader and the coach’s daughter Emma Wallhoff scored eight points, including two three-pointers.
CSN: Paul 25, Garousi 6, Giusto 4, Clutier 8. WA: Rosa 9, Wallhoff 8, Kelmanson 4, Qurik 2. Half: CSN 26-14. 3-pointers: Wallhoff 2, Garousi 2, Clutier. Rebounds: Rosa 9. Assists: Giusto 7. Steals: Giusto 3. Blocks: Paul 1.