It was expected to be Miami Country Day’s toughest game so far in the playoffs.
But by the fourth quarter, the running clock was underway and the Spartans had one of their most familiar foes once again gasping for air.
Led by junior guard Kelsey Marshall’s double-double (19 points and 11 rebounds), Miami Country Day broke open a close game to rout Seffner Christian 75-45 in a Class 3A state semifinal Tuesday night at The Lakeland Center.
The Spartans outscored Seffner Christian 27-8 in the third quarter and hit 11 of 19 three-pointers.
“We try to play as tough a schedule as possible so the games at state are not our most difficult games all year,” Miami Country Day coach Ochiel Swaby said. “I don’t worry about getting 30 wins. I want our players to be hardened playing all 32 minutes at a high level.”
Seffner Christian junior guard Chelsie Hall finished with the upper-hand on the stat sheet with a game-high 24 points.
But Miami Country Day took over the game with their overall balance and depth, and her fellow junior point guard prospect Channise Lewis set the tone for the Spartans.
Lewis finished with 13 points, but even more valuable were her game-high 12 assists.
“We didn’t play great team ball from the start, but I think as the game went on we executed every play,” Lewis said. “From the second half on, we knew we couldn’t step off the gas.”
The Spartans (25-6) beat Seffner Christian (27-4) for the fourth consecutive season in the state final four and advanced to their fourth state title game in a row.
Miami Country Day will try to become the first Miami-Dade County team to win three consecutive state titles in girls’ basketball when it takes on Jacksonville University Christian (28-3) Thursday at 5 p.m.
Only two teams from the South Florida area — Dillard (2010-13) and South Broward (2000-03) have won three or more state titles in succession.
“To be able to come here and have the coaches we have to push us to be the best we can be is something special to be a part of and it feels really good,” Marshall said.
After beating their prior five playoff opponents by an average margin of 68.8 points per game, Miami Country Day found itself trailing in the first quarter against the Crusaders by five points.
That was quickly erased by the Spartans increased pressure both in full court and one-on-one.
Country Day took the lead at the start of the second quarter and never trailed again. The Spartans induced the 35-point mercy rule running clock on junior forward Dashaun Jackson’s short jumper in the paint with 3:57 remaining in the fourth that gave Country Day a 70-35 lead.
“This was all about game plan and we were not going to let their best player beat us,” Swaby said. “We stayed true to who we are and we wanted to play at our up-tempo style. We wanted to play fast and get early offense.”
Jackson and senior forward Marsha Edwards, a Penn signee, have played a crucial role this season for the Spartans — a season after they graduated their two starting forwards Michelle Berry (Cal State Fullerton signee) and Ogechi Anyagaligbo (Stony Brook signee).
Jackson finished with 12 points and nine rebounds and Edwards sparked Country Day with 12 points and eight rebounds as it worked through a slow start early on.
Senior 5-10 guard Lindsey Pierre scored 14 points off the bench and hit a game-high four three-pointers.
“Those players are the X-factor to our game,” Lewis said. “We need players hustling, getting rebounds and making key plays.”
MCD (25-6): Marshall 19, Pierre 14, Lewis 13, Edwards 12, Jackson 12, Alvarez 3, Provenzano 2. SC (27-4): Hunter 10, Carpenter 5, Reed 6, Hall 24. Half: MCD 33-25. Three-pointers: Pierre 4, Marshall 3, Jackson 2, Hall 2, Lewis, Alvarez, Reed, Hunter. Rebounds: Marshall 11. Assists: Lewis 12. Steals: Hall 4. Blocks: Alvarez 2.
If you go
What: The state girls’ basketball finals.
When: Through Saturday.
Where: The Lakeland Center, 701 West Lime St., Lakeland.
Tuesday’s results – Class 1A semifinals: Madison County 53, Port St. Joe 48; Trenton 45, Santa Rosa Beach South Walton 34; Class 2A semifinals: Tallahassee FAMU 76, Palm Bay Covenant Christian 55; Land O’Lakes Academy at the Lakes 65, Boca Raton Grandview Prep 55; Class 3A semifinals: Jacksonville University Christian 47, Community School of Naples 42; Miami Country Day 75, Seffner Christian 45.
Wednesday’s schedule – Class 4A semifinals: Cardinal Gibbons vs. Orlando Lake Highland Prep, 1; Havana East Gadsden vs. Tampa Brooks-DeBartolo, 3; Class 1A final: Trenton vs. Madison County, 5:05; Class 2A final: FAMU vs. Academy at the Lakes, 8:05.
Thursday’s schedule – Class 5A semifinals: Fort Myers Dunbar vs. Jacksonville Ribault, 1; Lecanto vs. Orlando Bishop Moore, 3; Class 3A final: Miami Country Day vs. University Christian, 5:05; Class 4A final: 8:05.
Friday’s schedule – Class 7A semifinals: Bradenton Lakewood Ranch vs. Niceville, 10 a.m.; South Broward vs. Winter Haven, noon; Class 6A semifinals: Northeast vs. Orlando Edgewater, 4; Fort Myers vs. Fort Walton Beach Choctawhatchee, 8; Class 8A semifinals: Ferguson vs. Vero Beach, 2; Sanford Seminole vs. Boca Raton, 6.
Saturday’s schedule – Class 5A final: 11:05 a.m.; Class 6A final: 1:35; Class 7A final: 4:05; Class 8A final: 7:05.