SEMINOLE — Even though Northeast hit its preseason target, there still was another to aim for: an upset of Clearwater.
“It was a goal of ours all year to get to the district finals,” Vikings coach William White said. “We got the school record for most wins with 21, and the girls went all-in all season.”
That commitment and a quirky defense sparked by Laura Fizell (eight points) got Northeast a nice lead in Friday’s final, but standout guard Alex Alford carried the Tornadoes with a stellar fourth quarter on the way to Clearwater’s 47-40 victory at Seminole.
A funky 1-3-1 zone and a strong low-post game from Madison Schmidt (11 points and 13 rebounds) and two key third-quarter hoops from Haleigh Myers (seven points) helped Northeast (21-8) to a 34-25 lead with 7:20 left.
Enter Alford, who ran out of patience with her patient approach on offense and got sound advice from a relative.
“I heard my brother on the sidelines saying, ‘Don’t let their defense set up, just push the ball.’ Northeast played a heck of a game but then we finally matched up with their energy and effort.”
After draining a deep 3-pointer to start the comeback, Alford had a five-point run to put Clearwater (22-3) on top to stay with 2:21 left.
She had 11 of her game-high 18 points in the final eight minutes, and Deja Blunt had six of her 11 points (she also had 10 rebounds) as the Tornadoes, who used just six players, pulled it out.
“To be down going into the fourth quarter and fight back to win, that’s what you’ve got to do to survive and advance in the tournament,” Clearwater coach Paul Lang said. “That’s what we did.”