Winter Haven Falls to Choctawhatchee in Class 6A State Semifinals
Thu. February 21, 2013 at 9:39 p.m. | By Rick Brown
Chocctawatchee's Brittany Brown (center) drives between Winter Haven Blue Devils Zeneka Willix (left) and Cynkeria Mobley in 6A Semifinal game. (Photo by Calvin Kinght | The Ledger)
By RICK BROWN
LAKELAND | While the players may change, one constant in the success of the Winter Haven Lady Blue Devils have been the team’s aggressive play, especially on the defensive end. That is why the team was playing in the state semifinals for the fourth straight year and the 14th time in 16 years.
But on Thursday, foul trouble forced Winter Haven to back off a bit and that the break undefeated Fort Walton Beach Choctawhatchee needed.
The Indians (30-0) scored the game’s final nine points and defeated the Blue Devils 55-48 in the Class 6A state semifinal game at The Lakeland Center.
In their first state semifinal game since 1989, Choctaw advanced to Saturday’s title game for the first time in school history. The Indians will play Orlando Edgewater.
“We did our homework,” said Choctawhatchee guard Brittany Brown, who led the Indians with 26 points. “We saw them play in Gainesville. We watched them because they were in our classification. We went MaxPreps.com and read articles. We knew them.”
Meanwhile, the loss ended another strong run for the Blue Devils, whose season ends at 19-9, in a game that was closer than the final score indicated.
Choctaw led 52-48 with 20.3 seconds following two free throws by Brown. Winter Haven thought it had pulled within one when Khadijah Howell swished a 3-pointer near the Winter Haven bench.
But the shot was waived off as a ref said Howell had stepped out of bounds before making her shot.
That sent the Winter Haven bench, including coach Johnnie Lawson, into an uproar. Lawson was given two technical fouls and was ejected from the game.
Brown made three of our free throws with 6.1 seconds to ice the game for the Indians.
“Of course I’m going to say yeah (Howell was in), but the referees saw it differently,” Lawson said. “I didn’t see it that way. I thought she was in.
“One thing about it I have to stay calm no matter what happens,” Lawson said. “I feel like they fought. I’m not going to hold it against anybody. It was just a little frustration for me at the end.”
The frustration had been building up in Lawson all game as his two top players – Cynkeria Mobley and Zeneka Willix – played most of the game in foul trouble from the first quarter on. Mobley ended up fouling out with 20.3 seconds remaining.
The foul trouble had a major impact on the game.
Willix picked up her fourth with 5:23 left in the game. Mobley followed with her fourth with 4:06 remaining.
Afterward, Brown abandoned the jump shot (she was 6-of-26) and started attacking the basket. Brown scored 12 of her points in the quarter.
“We’re an aggressive team,” Lawson said. “When we find ourselves not being able to play aggressive, it affects us.
“One thing I did not to do is leave anything and go to a zone,” Lawson said. “We went out and played how Winter Haven does.
That’s going out and playing man-to-man, woman on woman all night long, and they were a couple of points better.”
Meanwhile, Lauren Day (18 points) became more aggressive in the post in attacking Willix.
“It affected my rhythm because I had to keep coming out,” Willix said of the foul trouble. “For Brie (Mobley), she had to be more calm on defense than she normally is.”
For 39 minutes, the game was extremely tight.
No team had more than a five-point lead until the end. The game was tied six times and the lead changed hands seven times.
Mobley (17 points) hit a jumper to give Haven a 48-46 lead with 1:40 left but Brown answered on Choctaw’s next possession with a layup and foul (she missed the free throw) to knot the game at 48 with 1:12 remaining.
The Blue Devils missed on their next possession and the Indians went inside to Day, who scored on a layup with 43.3 seconds remaining to give Choctaw a lead it would not give up.
Winter Haven turned the ball over, which led to Mobley picking up her fifth to stop the clock.
Brown hit five of six free throws in the final 20.3 seconds to help the Indians advance.
“To win this ball game speaks volumes for our program and our school,” said Indian coach Don Brown. “We had great support from our school. (Thursday) is a good day. We’ll come back (Saturday) and work as hard as we can.”
For the Blue Devils, it’s back to the drawing board for Lawson, who will lose five seniors, including Mobley and Willix. Still, their mission will be the same to get back to state and compete for the program’s third state title.
“No question we want to win state,” he said. “That’s what you play for. That’s what you work for. And that’s the disappointing thing because that’s what you work for. That’s the disappointing thing because I feel they really deserve it.”
CHOCTAWHATCHEE (55) – Shavona Spaw 2-2 0-0 4, Caneisaya Mattews 0-3 0-0 0, Lauren Day 7-10 2-3 18, Brittany Brown 6-26 12-14 26, Brittany Washington 2-7 0-0 5, Tasharah Sanders 1-2 0-2 2. Totals 18-50 14-19 55.
WINTER HAVEN (48) – Zeneka Willix 5-11 6-7 16, Ly’Na Battles 2-7 3-6 7, Shantricxe Solomon 1-6 2-3 4, Khadijah Howell 1-4 0-0 3, Shaterrika O’Neal 0-2 1-2 1, Tekera Henderson 0-0 0-0 , Cynkeria Mobley 8-18 0-0 17. Totals 17-48 12-18 48.
Choctawhatchee 15 9 11 20 -- 55
Winter Haven 16 8 10 14 -- 48
3-point field goals: C 5-17 (Day 2-3, Brown 2-11, Washington 1-3); WH 2-10 (Mobley 1-2, Howell 1-4, Solomon 0-1, Battles 0-3). Technical Fouls: WH 2 (Lawson 2). Fouled Out: Mobley (WH). Rebounds: C 33 (Day 7), WH 36 (Willix 9). Assists: C 10 (Brown 7), WH 7 (Mobley 4). Records: Choctawhatchee 30-0, Winter Haven 19-9.
[ Rick Brown may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @rickbrown91. ]