SEFFNER — The Armwood plan Tuesday night was to stop Dixie Hollins’ Meagan Thomas from scoring.
The plan worked so well in the first quarter that the entire Dixie Hollins team failed to score.
The Hawks scored the first 26 points in the Class 6A region semifinal, then coasted to a 55-40 win over a game, but overmatched Rebels team.
Armwood (26-4) will travel to Naples Barron Collier on Saturday for the region championship.
Both teams entered the game with 10-game win streaks. The Hawks have now won 11 straight, with Dixie Hollins the only team in that span to reach 40 points.
Armwood led 19-0 after one quarter. The Rebels did not score until Kinza Khan made a short shot from the baseline with 5:26 left in the second quarter.
Thomas, the 2,300-point career scorer who came in averaging 26.4 points a game, finished with 21, but only had four at halftime as Armwood led 32-8.
“That first quarter really set us back a lot,” Thomas said. “I was really nervous. I’ve been in multiple games. …I shouldn’t have let it get the best of me.”
“Our goal was for her to walk out of here tired,” said Hawks coach Patrick Kelly. “We wanted this to be the hardest game she ever played.”
It was certainly the hardest first quarter. The Hawks (26-4) forced a dozen turnovers and made sure Thomas had a hand in her face for every shot. The Rebels missed all nine of their shots.
“All we had to do was stop No. 11, and when we stopped her we knew the game was in our hands,” said Kiana King, who led the Hawks with 19 points.
Armwood missed its fair share of shots in the first quarter and half as well, but grabbed most of them and put them back in the basket. Center Kiki Newsome scored seven points, mostly on rebounds, and of the 14 Hawk baskets in the first half, seven were putbacks.
“We preached to the girls, to make a truly deep run in the playoffs, you have to dominate inside sometimes,” Kelly said. “We watched film, we thought we had the advantage there.”
Seemingly on the verge of a running clock, the Rebels (19-6) fought back in the second half. Khan made a trio of 3-pointers and scored 11 of her 13, and Thomas heated up with 17 of her points as the Rebels outscored Armwood 32-23.
“We knew we had to come out and work in the second half,” said Dixie Hollins coach Kelley Jones. “We weren’t going to let them run away with it. We weren’t going to let that happen.”
Dixie Hollins got within 48-37 and had multiple chances to get the disadvantage to single digits. But King, with 10 points in the third quarter, and 13 from Trumeeyka Hawkins, were enough to hold off any late heroics from the Rebels’ top scorer.
“I knew that she was gonna score,” said King, chuckling, “but by then she had to score quite a bit.”