TAMPA — Jefferson has long been known as a football school, but the Dragons girls basketball team is doing its best to make the school known for that sport as well.
After the biggest win in program history Saturday night, the Jefferson band celebrated on center court as students and family mobbed players.
Looking on during the celebration, Dragons coach Tom Mosca said the moment has been three years in the making. Jefferson reached its first state tournament with a 66-41 win over Naples Barron Collier in the Class 4A region final.
Jefferson (28-3) faces Pensacola on Friday at the Lakeland Center.
"You just keep working, the kids get better, they get a little chemistry," Mosca said. "We've gone the whole progression now."
The Dragons outmuscled the Cougars, who won state titles in 5A twice in the past five years, with dominating post play.
Junior Shayla Wilson had 12 points, including eight in the first quarter, and 22 rebounds.
But each quarter a different Dragon stepped up.
In the third quarter, Laurie Beaty helped pace a 17-2 run. As the Cougars narrowed the lead to eight, Beaty — who finished with a team-high 15 — scored five straight to start the run, including a three-point play off her steal.
And in the fourth Shayla Upshaw scored six of her 12.
"This was the hardest we've played in forever," Beaty said. "We wanted this so bad. It feels amazing. We can't put it into words. We all have each other's back. We pick each other up."
Since 2009, when Jefferson lost to Boca Ciega in the 5A region final, getting back to this game — and winning it — was the goal.
"Our hearts were broken that night," Wilson said. "But they're healed after tonight."
CLASS A: Cambridge's second straight trip to the region final was a long night for the Lancers. After winning their first two playoff games on the road, a cross-state drive to face Lake Worth Trinity was too much as Cambridge lost 75-38. The Lancers finished 17-9.