LAKELAND (SFHSSports) – Northeast had eight minutes.READ MORE: Car Slammed Into Miami Home, Three Dead, Two Hospitalized
Eight minutes to cap their storybook season with a state title.
Unfortunately, the Hurricanes didn’t score a single point for almost six of those minutes.
After going into the fourth quarter with the score tied at 42, Northeast went 1-for-18 from the field in the final eight minutes as Fort Myers pulled away late and took down the Hurricanes 60-45 in the Class 6A state championship game Saturday afternoon at The Lakeland Center.
Northeast, which defeated Orlando Edgewater in the state semifinal, didn’t score its first points of the fourth quarter until Kandis Taylor made one of two free throws with 2:43 left to play. By then, the Green Wave (28-5) had built a 54-43 lead. The Hurricanes made its first field goal in the final minute when senior Deborah Hudson made a layup with 43 seconds left.
Tiffany Charles, who was the acting head coach for Northeast Saturday, said that the Hurricanes just couldn’t hit a shot in the fourth quarter.
“It felt like the rim closed,” Charles said. “Even our point blank layups weren’t going in. We just couldn’t make anything. We were breaking the press and we were getting the shots we wanted, they just weren’t going in.”
Much ado was made Friday after the Northeast (20-8) won its state semifinal game. Hurricanes head coach Zach Gillion spoke during the postgame press conference of how he would be unable to coach in Saturday’s final.
“I just wish [the FHSAA] would consider changing the time of the game, in respect for my religious beliefs,” Gillion said Friday.
Gillion, a Seventh Day Adventist, recognizes his Sabbath from Friday’s sundown to Saturday’s sundown. Saturday’s 6A title game tipped off at 1:35 p.m. and Gillion did not attend.
FHSAA officials in Lakeland said Friday that Northeast did petition – and was granted – to have Friday’s semifinal game time changed to accommodate Gillion. However, the school only petitioned for the semifinals, not the finals – in addition to the state having previously approved all game times to fit the Bright House Network television schedule.READ MORE: Homeowners insurance changes headed to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk
Charles said there was a void to fill without Gillion on the bench.
“It definitely was a difference without him on the bench,” said Charles, who confirmed that she filled in for Gillion as head coach once before during this season. “If you know [Coach Gillion], you know he’s a very positive and a huge influence on the team – a huge personality. It definitely was a hole to fill…I’m not going to sugar coat it. We as assistant coaches tried to the bests of our ability to fill that void.”
“If he would have coached, who knows what would have been the outcome,” Charles said.
Still, even without Gillion on the sideline, the Hurricanes were very much in Saturday’s game – until the fourth quarter.
Northeast built a 10-3 lead late in the first quarter, only trailed Fort Myers by one at halftime and actually held a 40-39 lead late in the third quarter after the teams traded baskets for much of the second and third quarters.
The Hurricanes had a poor shooting performance in Friday’s semifinal – 19 percent (13 for 68) from the field – and it seemed to carry over into Saturday. The difference between the two games was that Northeast won the rebound and turnover battles Friday, but was on the minus side in both categories on Saturday.
Fort Myers snatched down 52 rebounds compared to Northeast’s 41 and the Green Wave had 14 turnovers to the Hurricanes’ 20.
Also, Fort Myers – which won its first girls basketball title in school history – had four players score in double figures. Destanni Henderson finished 15 points and 10 rebounds; Bethany Brunson had 13 points and 13 rebounds; and 6-foot-2 sophomore Alexis Johnson came off the bench to add 15 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
Hurricanes Junior Cabria Lee scored a team-high 14 points for Northeast Saturday but shot just 6-for-14 from the field. She also had four turnovers, to just one assist.
TaKyla Austin added 13 points for the Hurricanes, as she was the catalyst for their brief third quarter lead; but she and senior Ashley Saintigene – who had four points and 10 rebounds – both fouled out in the fourth quarter.
“Nothing was falling for us, we just couldn’t pull through,” Lee said.
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Class 6A state championship: Fort Myers 60, Northeast 45 – NE (20-8): Lee 14, Austin 13, Hudson 8, Saintigene 4, Taylor 4, Delinois 2. FTM (28-5): Johnson 15, Henderson 15, Brunson 13, Giles 10, Outten 6, Hayes 1. Halftime: FTM 25-24. Three-pointers: Taylor, Austin, Brunson, Henderson. Fouled out: Austin, Saintigene, Brunson. Technicals: None.