LAKELAND — Peyton Walker had been to the state semifinals before, and she didn’t like how she felt after last year’s loss to Miami Country Day.
So when Calvary Christian took a one-point lead with less than six minutes to play in Tuesday’s Class 3A game, Seffner Christian having just let its 17-point advantage slip away, Walker reminded herself of that sinking feeling she was determined not to have again.
“That’s when we were like, ‘Okay, we’re stepping it up,’ ” she said. “And that’s when we took off.”
The Crusaders (24-5) took back the lead down the stretch at the free-throw line. And with less than a minute to go, Walker had a steal, a basket, a rebound and a block to secure the Crusaders’ 56-48 win. Seffner Christian will play Miami Country Day in today’s state championship.
Walker, who led Seffner Christian with 27 points and 21 rebounds, put up 10 quick points in the first quarter. Calvary Christian’s leading scorers — sophomore twins Carley and Savannah Plentovich — didn’t have the same successful start.
Knowing the Plentoviches would be tough to defend, Seffner Christian coach Greg Fawbush employed the triangle-and-two early in the game, putting a defender on each twin. They combined for two points in the first quarter.
“We felt like the two twins could beat us,” Fawbush said, “so we wanted to make sure they worked the entire game.”
Soon, though, the Warriors (21-7) made adjustments, and the shooting sisters helped get Calvary Christian back in the game.
Guard Saje Schlatterer had three 3-pointers in the second half, one of which was the go-ahead basket for the Warriors with 5:53 to play. Once it took the lead, Calvary Christian slowed the pace, a move Fawbush said actually played right into the Crusaders’ hands.
It allowed the Crusaders to collect themselves, Fawbush said, and once they got to the free-throw line, guard Sara Denny knew they were in the clear.
“Free throws is what wins ball games,” said Denny, who sank two late in the fourth quarter to give Seffner Christian a three-point lead. “I knew going up to the line, ‘I got this.’ ”
Calvary Christian coach Brooke Sibert didn’t give a reason for the late change of pace, after which her team never scored again.
Fawbush appeared puzzled by the move, noting that Savannah and Carley Plentovich — who finished with nine and 16 points, respectively — operate well in a fast-paced system.
But the 19th-year coach didn’t spend too long pondering it. After all, his Crusaders made it to the biggest game of the season, and that’s all that mattered.
“I’m glad they did,” Fawbush said, “but I definitely didn’t expect it.”