Playing the final game of a stretch of three games in three days against some of Miami-Dade County’s best, the Miami High girls’ basketball team withstood another tough challenge Wednesday night.
And thanks to some clutch play down the stretch from guard Amanda Mendoza and forward Melsheree Reid, the Stingarees rallied to beat South Miami 54-50 in a GMAC tournament semifinal at the Stingarees’ gym.
With the victory, Miami High (22-1) set up a 7 p.m. showdown Friday between the top two-ranked teams in South Florida by the Miami Herald as the top-ranked Stingarees will play host to No. 2 American (22-2).
The Patriots defeated fifth-ranked Ferguson 43-36 in the other semifinal to advance to their first GMAC final since 2000.
“We’ve had to play the five starters almost the whole second half and that’s been a lot of minutes on these kids,” Miami High coach Sam Baumgarten said. “I think we’re used to being the target this year and we know we’re going to get everybody’s best shot.”
South Miami (18-8), which will enter next week’s district round as the No. 2 seed in the District 15-8A playoffs, led by as many as 12 points and gave Miami High all it could handle. Tamorra Graham led the Cobras with 17 points.
But Reid hit a jumper with 1:54 left in the third to give the Stingarees their first lead at 40-39.
However, the Cobras quickly retook the advantage and led until Mendoza tied the score at 50 with two free throws with 2:35 left in the fourth.
After neither team could score on three possessions, Mendoza drove to the basket and drew a foul with 21.9 seconds left. Mendoza hit both free throws. South Miami had a chance to tie it again but Lilyan Gil missed a jumper with 10 seconds left and Mendoza recovered a loose ball and was fouled again. She made two more free throws to seal the outcome. Mendoza played the entire fourth quarter despite having four fouls.
With its status as a state championship contender this season, Miami High knew it would face tough challenges all season. The Stingarees defeated fellow defending state runner-up Miami Country Day in overtime Monday night and beat Coral Reef in Tuesday’s quarterfinal.
“We’ve played some tough teams and pulled out some big wins,” Baumgarten said. “I wish I could give them a break here and there, but I think it’s more like we’re missing our legs right now, but not our minds.”
Shannaya Jones scored 13 points and Maika’la McCloud scored 12 to lead the Patriots, and Ebony Griffin had 17 rebounds.
“Our team and Ferguson know each other well and credit to Ferguson because they played well,” American coach Paul Torres said.
American trailed by as many five early in the fourth quarter, but forced two key Ferguson players — Nachale De Jesus and Annie Osceola — to foul out of the game, and the Patriots finished on a 14-2 run.