WINTER HAVEN — Through three quarters Saturday, Jefferson had fought perennial powerhouse Winter Haven to a near draw, trailing by only four going into the final period.
The Blue Devils finally found some offense, though, with 5:22 remaining in the Class 6A region contest after Tekera Henderson threw up an off-balance prayer that banked in for her only points of the game. That shot keyed a 10-4 run that pushed Winter Haven’s lead to 10 and an ensuing 6-for-6 performance from the free-throw line sealed the 56-44 win for Winter Haven. With the victory, the Blue Devils (19-8) advance to the state tournament for the 11th time in the past 13 years.
“Let me tell you something, there’s so much pressure on me and these girls,” Winter Haven coach Johnnie Lawson said. “They have to answer to their sisters in the summer,” he said looking at the banners in the background.
Jefferson (20-7) could not overcome the Blue Devils’ full-court press and early foul trouble for seniors Shayla Wilson and Shayla Upshaw. Both sat for the last 1:37 of the first half — and Winter Haven went on an 8-0 run to tie the game at 19-19.
“That kind of messed us up a little bit,” Dragons coach Natanya Miller said. “We weren’t able to regroup and focus again. We couldn’t handle their pressure. They did a good job pressuring us full court, and we had trouble getting the ball up the court. We struggled on offense all night long.”
Wilson finished with a team-high 19 points while Upshaw scored 10 in her final high school game. Winter Haven junior Cynkeria Mobley led all scorers with 24 points, and Khadijah Howell and Zeneka Willix added 12 each for the Blue Devils, aiming for their first state title since 2007.