Saturday, January 20, 2018

Region girls basketball: Seffner Christian rolls into state semifinals

MOUNT DORA — Before playing on its home court, the Seffner Christian girls basketball team isn't allowed to have warmup music. So forward Peyton Walker has taken it upon herself to pump up her teammates, no matter where the game is, with her own tunes.

"I always sing, but this time I was really getting into it," Walker said of Friday's pregame ritual at Mount Dora Bible. "I wanted us to be ready and pumped up, because we usually don't go into the game strong."

Maybe it was Walker's song choice — We Are the Champions — or maybe it was that they were playing for their third final four berth in four years.

But the Crusaders came out with a forceful presence and never backed down, cruising to a 65-22 win in the Class 3A region final. Seffner Christian faces Calvary Christian on Tuesday in Lakeland in the state semifinals.

It was the Crusaders' fifth straight win by at least 36 points.

Despite Seffner Christian's ability to take opponents out of games early, the Bulldogs (23-6) held their own in the first quarter, trailing by just six heading. But Walker added five quick points after play resumed, and the Crusaders (25-5) finished the half on a 23-2 run.

Seffner Christian, which came in shooting 34 percent from beyond the arc, was aided by five 3-pointers in the first half, three by Sabrina Whiting.

"Sometimes (3-pointers are) not falling, but tonight they were falling," said Whiting, who led the Crusaders with 26 points. "If I start getting on, then Sara Denny will, then Ally Parimor will catch on. It just trickles down from there."

Two quarters from their second straight region title, the Crusaders turned it on even harder in the second half, resulting in a running clock. Seffner Christian sunk four more deep baskets, and the defense held Mount Dora Bible to nine points after intermission.

The Crusaders, aiming for the program's first state title, haven't been challenged much as of late, but coach Greg Fawbush doesn't worry about how his players will respond once they do in the coming days.

Because if the Crusaders have proven anything this season, he said, it's that they know how to take care of business.

"Before the game, somebody asked me if I was nervous," Fawbush said. "When I look at Sabrina Whiting, Peyton Walker, Ally Parimor, Sara Denny and Kelly Cunningham … you kind of feel calm. These girls know what to do."

4A: AHN eliminated

FORT MYERS — The Academy of the Holy Names was the unquestioned underdog heading into Friday's Class 4A, Region 3 final at powerful Fort Myers Dunbar.

For the first 10 minutes, the Jaguars pushed the Tigers, widely regarded as one of the best teams in the state, to the limit, thanks to lights-out shooting by senior guard Ashley McWilliams.

But Dunbar's depth, superior size and relentless pressure proved too much to overcome for Holy Names, which ended its season with a 72-45 loss.

"We knew it was going to be tough," Jaguars coach Chris Severini said. "It was really important for us to try to control the tempo. We've been dealing with a size disadvantage all year. We were trying to minimize their points in the paint as much as possible. But we knew they'd get their opportunities because of their size and athleticism."

McWilliams, who finished with a game-high 27 points, scored the first 10 of the game for Holy Names (22-9), which trailed 14-12 after one quarter.

"She is a tough kid," Dunbar coach Dwayne Donnell said of McWilliams. "We were throwing everything at her but she kept making plays."

But with 6-foot junior Colleen Dougherty on the bench in foul trouble, the Tigers (28-1) began working the ball inside to 5-foot-9 junior Regine Cooper and 6-foot sophomore Respect Leaphart, The pair combined for 13 second-quarter points as Dunbar built a 31-22 halftime lead.

Meanwhile, Holy Names, which finished with 31 turnovers, couldn't get its offense on track. A five-minute scoring drought by the Jaguars in the third quarter allowed Dunbar to build a 19-point advantage and take firm control of the game.

"They're supposed to have this kind of feeling right now," said Severini, whose team will graduate three seniors, including McWilliams. "That what drives you to want to get back to this same position next year. That's our goal."

Dan Deluca, Special to the Times

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