The only team with prior state tournament experience in this year’s Class 8A bracket also happened to be ranked among the nation’s top 25 girls’ basketball teams.
And Miami High played like both Friday night at The Lakeland Center.
Led by star junior center Beatrice Mompremier’s 16 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocks, Miami High reached the Class 8A final for the second consecutive season with a 55-37 state semifinal victory over Seminole.
The Stingarees (30-1), ranked No. 21 nationally by USA Today, will try to win their second state championship and first since 2005 on Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. when they play Port St. Lucie Treasure Coast.
“We knew we were the favorite, so we couldn’t give them a chance,” senior forward Terri Kimbrough said. “We were the dominating team coming [in], and we just wanted to give people what they wanted [to see us dominate].”
As an underdog last season, Miami High needed a buzzer-beater to earn a chance to compete for a state championship.
A year later, the Stingarees were in total control of their state semifinal game from the opening whistle.
Mompremier (6-4) had a clear size advantage over Seminole’s frontcourt of Carly McClendon (6-0) and Aniquah Swan (5-11).
“Beatrice brings a different dimension to our team,” Miami High coach Sam Baumgarten said. “A lot of times, she’s our best press breaker and a force inside and an easy target to hit. She brings a lot to the table.”
Mompremier already had 10 points in the first quarter, and Miami High forced 19 Seminole turnovers in the first half to take a 35-8 lead at halftime. The Stingarees held Seminole to two points in the second quarter.
“It’s a small thing to a giant like [Mompremier],” Kimbrough said. “We want this title more than anything because we’ve been dreaming about this since middle school.”
Miami High’s core of seniors was crucial in the win, although one of its leaders, Amanda Mendoza, only finished with five points.
The rest of the Stingarees picked up the slack, as Kimbrough finished with six assists and conducted their attack in near-perfect fashion in the first half.
Senior Antranae Alvin picked up five steals.
Seminole outscored Miami High in the third quarter 14-10 during a mistake-filled quarter in which the Stingarees turned the ball over nine times — one more than they had in the entire first half.
But even with bench players in the game since the early part of the fourth quarter, Miami High never let Seminole get closer than the final 18-point margin.
“We’ve been known all year to play to our competition, and we got complacent,” Baumgarten said. “I was disappointed with our second half. We should have put them away.”
Miami High beat Orlando Colonial on a buzzer-beater by Melsheree Reid last season, then lost to Orlando Dr. Phillips in the final.