High School Sports

Miami Country Day cruises past familiar foe in state semifinal

Miami Country Day Kelsey Marshall, 23, shoots a basket as they play Seffner Christian in the semifinals at the Florida High School State Championships in Lakeland, FL on Wed., Feb. 22, 2017.
Miami Country Day Kelsey Marshall, 23, shoots a basket as they play Seffner Christian in the semifinals at the Florida High School State Championships in Lakeland, FL on Wed., Feb. 22, 2017. ctrainor@maimiherald.com

After five consecutive seasons of losing to the same team at state, Seffner Christian coach Joe Cooper gave Miami Country Day some lofty praise.

“People always wonder if UConn’s dominance is good for the game,” Cooper said in reference to the No. 1 UConn women’s college basketball team, which has won a record 101 games in a row.

“I think it’s great. Everybody has to work hard to get to their level. That’s how it is facing Miami Country Day. They’re the best in our state and there’s no doubt about it. We have to keep working to reach their level.”

Miami Country Day’s mastery continued Wednesday with little opposition as the Spartans routed Seffner Christian 81-42 in a Class 4A state semifinal at The Lakeland Center.

The Spartans (28-1), ranked No. 7 nationally by USA Today, advanced to the finals for the fifth year in a row. They will attempt to extend their Miami-Dade County record for consecutive state titles to four on Friday when they take on unbeaten Jacksonville Providence (27-0) at 8 p.m. The streak would tie the second-longest in state history — currently shared by Dillard, South Broward and Laurel Hill.

Should Country Day win its fourth state title, it would surpass Miami High and Monsignor Pace for the most for any Dade team.

“The commitment we ask from these kids is a lot and they have to live these moments in order to continue to work as hard as they do,” Miami Country Day coach Ochiel Swaby said. “These types of rewards are the reasons they put in so much in the offseason.”

Senior and University of Miami signee Kelsey Marshall set the tone from the outset and paced the Spartans with a game-high 27 points and 12 rebounds. Marshall hit six three-pointers on 10 attempts, and all five starters scored in double figures.

When asked about his game plan Wednesday, Cooper spoke about how there really wasn’t a way his team could slow down the Spartans.

Country Day’s inside game balanced its guards as forward Aasiya Berry found plenty of room and finished with 14 points and five rebounds.

The Spartans also found an extra source of offense from the outside as Asha Taylor hit four three-pointers and finished with 16 points.

“We’ve been training for this game for two weeks and watching film and more film,” Taylor said. “I had a great opportunity and I had to step up.”

Illinois signee Channise Lewis, who has been a part of all three state title teams at Country Day, conducted the onslaught with a game-high eight assists to go along with her 10 points.

Seffner Christian senior guard Chelsie Hall, a Vanderbilt signee, led her team with 15 points, but the damage was minimal thanks to a solid defensive effort by Country Day.

“We wanted to bracket her and make her see bodies in front of her to deter her attacks,” Swaby said.

The Spartans may not have a 100-plus game winning streak like UConn, but they have won at the national level during their state title run the past few years.

Country Day hopes a victory Friday is enough to earn an invitation to the Dick’s Nationals tournament in New York at the end of March. The Spartans won that tournament in 2015, winning the final over Dillard at Madison Square Garden.

“If we get this one, I’ll be able to leave here with four rings and hopefully get an invitation to Dick’s Nationals,” Lewis said. “It wasn’t a dream when I started playing [at Country Day], but it is now.”

MCD (28-1): Berry 14, Alvarez 10, Lewis 10, Taylor 16, Marshall 27, Shaw 2, Gregoire 2. SC (29-2): Carpenter 7, Hall 15, Reed 5, Leipold 8, Bartram 3, Hunter 4. Half: MCD 44-23. Three-pointers: Marshall 6, Taylor 4, Lewis, Alvarez, Carpenter 2, Reed, Bartram. Fouled out: Hunter. Technical: Seffner Christian bench. Rebounds: Marshall 12. Assists: Lewis 8. Steals: Lewis 2. Blocks: Hall 2.

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