South Broward got a little closer to ending its state title drought.
But Winter Haven proved too much for the Bulldogs for the second consecutive season.
South Broward fell behind early and never fully recovered, losing to the Blue Devils 72-65 in the Class 8A state championship game at The Lakeland Center a year after Winter Haven eliminated the Bulldogs in the semifinals.
The Bulldogs (27-4) came up short of winning their first state title since 2008 and adding what would have been a seventh championship to their storied program. Winter Haven (29-4) won its second state title in a row and fourth overall.
With South Broward’s loss, Broward County teams went 0 for 5 in their bids to bring home state championships. The Bulldogs were the only team among the county’s contingent to reach the finals.
“We had some mental breakdowns throughout the game,” South Broward co-coach Sharlene Ferguson said. “I’m proud of them though. We fought until the end and they capitalized on our mistakes like great teams do and Winter Haven is a great team.”
Senior guard Mackenzie Sadaka, who missed all three of her shots from long distance in South Broward’s semifinal win Friday over Fleming Island, made two in the first three-plus minutes Saturday to give the Bulldogs a brief 8-6 lead.
But Winter Haven used an 11-0 run to take a lead that grew to double digits in the second quarter and it never relinquished.
Sadaka finished with 15 points, guard Tianna Ayulo had 16 and Natalia Leaks had 11, but South Broward’s backcourt couldn’t slow down Winter Haven’s guards.
Senior Tatianna Thompson, a Georgetown commitment, paced the Blue Devils with a game-high 20 points and junior Diamond Battles had 15 points.
She and junior forward Melijah Sullivan each had six assists as Winter Haven’s ball movement and easy transition scores prevented the Bulldogs from making any significant progress in cutting down the Blue Devils’ lead, which grew to as many as 16 in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs pulled to within five with 3:03 left in the fourth quarter, but Winter Haven responded with five quick points to extend it to a double-digit lead again.
With both teams in the double-bonus, Winter Haven made 8 of 11 free throws down the stretch to hold off South Broward’s last-ditch efforts to come back.
Senior forward Shante Walker fouled out with 2:21 remaining, ending her career with the Bulldogs. Walker, who averaged 15.9 points and 12.8 rebounds during the season, finished with a game-high 17 rebounds, but was limited to nine points after only scoring five in the semifinals.
“They sped us up to their tempo and we just didn’t have the composure that we needed,” Ferguson said.
SB (27-4): McClain 9, Walker 9, Leaks 11, Ayulo 16, Sadaka 15, Bell 3, Thomas 2. WH (29-4): Sullivan 11, Thompson 20, Battles 15, Franklin 9, Collins 11, Sam 6. Half: WH 38-25. Fouled out: Walker, Sam. Three-pointers: Ayulo, Sadaka 4, Collins 2, Battles, Franklin. Rebounds: Walker 17. Assists: Sullivan, Battles, 6. Steals: Leaks 5.
STATE GIRLS’ BASKETBALL FINALS
Class 9A: Boca Raton 45, Ferguson 42
Class 8A: Winter Haven 72, South Broward 65
Class 7A: Fort Myers vs. Fort Walton Beach, inc.
Class 6A: Jacksonville Ribault 72, St. Pete Lakewood 31
Class 5A: Orlando Jones 56, Tallahassee Florida High 44
Class 4A: Miami Country Day 81, Jacksonville Providence 40
Class 3A: Tallahassee FAMU 46, Tampa Carrollwood 37
Class 2A: Boca Raton Grandview Prep 37, Ormond Beach Calvary Christian 34
Class 1A: Wildwood 58, Santa Rosa Beach South Walton 48