WINTER PARK — When a tight first half gave way to a breakneck rhythm in the third, the coach of Academy at the Lakes knew his team had the win.
"It was a torrid pace in the third quarter," AATL coach Karim Nohra said. "We scored 25 points, and they scored seven. And that was the ball game, right there."
The Wildcats defeated Winter Park International Community, 76-59, in Friday's Class 2A region final to advance to the state semifinals. They will face Sarasota Christian, which beat Berean Christian 49-14.
AATL finished the half up 30-27, and pulled away in the next eight minutes. Though the Comets outshot AATL in the fourth, it wasn't enough to make a comeback.
"They just could not recover from that third quarter," Nohra said. "They were never able to chip that lead down to the point where I was uncomfortable."
The Wildcats faced a potential challenge when Rebecca Hannah suffered what appeared to be a knee injury. Hannah, who Nohra described as AATL's top player, tried to continue playing in the third quarter but couldn't keep up with the grueling pace. She was sidelined late in that quarter but came back to the court in the fourth.
Though International Community got 25 points in the last eight minutes, the Wildcats didn't drop off the scoreboard. They added another 21 points before the buzzer sounded.
"Every time they hit a 3, we answered with a 2 or hit a 3 ourselves," Nohra said.
Imani Thomas led AATL on both ends of the court, racking up 27 points and 15 rebounds. Audra Leipold added 21 points.