LAND O'LAKES — For a fleeting moment in the first quarter, the faithful who crammed into Academy at the Lakes' gym, hoping to see if the upstart Wildcats could continue their unlikely run through the postseason, dared to think about the impossible.
The Wildcats kept region final opponent Trinity Christian Academy off the scoreboard for more than four minutes and multiple possessions to start the game. Marjorie Rivera drove the lane for a layup, Andrea Mauger drained an open look from 3-point range and the intimate setting inside the tiny gym suddenly turned frenzied.
Trinity Christian, three years removed from a Class A state championship and a participant in the semifinals a year ago, wasn't quite so superhuman, it seemed. The Warriors had weaknesses. The Wildcats were finding them. And their fans, sensing a miracle, were excited.
Unfortunately for Academy at the Lakes, it too had a number of shortcomings, and they were all exposed by a veteran Trinity Christian team in a 59-30 runaway win.
The Warriors (21-4) used their decided size advantage to outrebound the Wildcats 51 to 32. The Warriors' superior athleticism forced Academy into 30 turnovers. And an 8-0 run to end the first half followed by a 20-2 scoring margin in the third quarter signaled the end for Academy (19-5).
"It was women playing against girls, for the most part," AATL coach Karim Nohra said. "It showed, and it shows clearly when you're outmuscled on the boards."
Initially, the Wildcats defense forced Trinity Christian into tough shots. But all too often, the Warriors were waiting under the basket for several followup attempts before finally converting. Crystal Connors alone had 20 rebounds for the Warriors, and she added 15 points, mostly on put backs.
Trinity Catholic led 10-7 after the first quarter and opened a 14-10 advantage before Alex Gittens and Alexis Holler made consecutive field goals to tie it up.
Then the game turned bizarre, as Trinity Christian coach Luke McCray called for his star forward Danielle McCray, a Mississippi signee, to hold the ball near half court. Nohra kept his defense back, settled behind the 3-point line, and for two minutes, 41 seconds, McCray (game-high 17 points) stood like a statue, moving only once to wipe some perspiration off the ball with her shorts.
The stall tactic worked, though. The Warriors scored the next four baskets to go into halftime ahead 22-14 and dominated the second half.
"They were real hype, so I just stalled the ball so they can get back focus," Luke McCray said. "Then you see after we stalled them, and they started back playing, it was a whole different game."
The Warriors outscored the Wildcats 20-2 in the third quarter for a 42-16 lead going into the final quarter.
"We got sloppy and turned the ball over more than we should have," Nohra said. "Most of their points in that spurt was transition points. That's where they got their points."
Nohra, 0-for-7 in region finals, said he has never been more proud of one of his teams. Last season, the Wildcats were 0-15.
"I told them, 'You have made school history. Nobody can take that away from you. Nobody expected you to be here in the elite eight, are you kidding me?' "