MELBOURNE — Before Melbourne Central Catholic took the floor for Saturday night’s Class 3A region final, senior forward YaYa Ebanks had a special message for her teammate, freshman Kemari Jones: “I just let her know, ‘This is your time,’ ” Ebanks said.
As Jones proved against Seffner Christian, she’s not just a heck of a player, but a good listener.
With Jones coming off the bench to score a game-high 28 points — and Ebanks adding 26 — the Hustlers overcame a slow start to defeat the Crusaders 70-59 to advance to the final four for the first time since 2004.
MCC will face Gainesville P.K. Yonge Tuesday at the Lakeland Center. With a front line that includes the 6-foot-1 Jones, the 5-11 Ebanks and the 5-10 Alexandra Milliard, the Hustlers (24-6) will be a tall order for any opponent they face.
Seffner Christian got off to a hot start Saturday night, opening a 9-2 lead. That’s when Jones came off the bench. She blocked a shot right away, and suddenly Seffner Christian didn’t find it so easy to drive the middle or rebound any missed shots.
Meanwhile, MCC got the ball inside to Jones, while Ebanks was hitting from both inside and out.
“(Kemari) brings momentum,” Hustlers coach Candee Terry said. “If you watch her, she moves up and down the court very well for a big girl. The way she goes is the way our team goes. …YaYa has been the X factor.”
Leading by 10 points going into the final quarter, the Hustlers went on a 15-0 run which included back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers by Ebanks, Martinez and Dejanae Baker.
Sabrina Whiting and Peyton Walker each scored 18 points to lead the Crusaders.