LAKELAND — Well, that was impressive.
Playing in its first Class 3A state semifinal, Carrollwood Day showed no sign of nerves in routing Bradenton Christian 73-37 Tuesday night at the Lakeland Center. The Patriots, who start five freshmen, were led by Tiasia McMillan's 22 points. CC Mays added 16.
Next up, Carrollwood Day (28-2) will play in Thursday night's final against defending champion Florida A&M High, which defeated Somerset Prep 59-48.
"We have a running joke around here and that is 'I hate freshmen,' " Patriots' first-year coach Karim Nohra said. "Why do I say that? Because one day they play well and the next day they act like you haven't taught them anything. Well, tonight they sure played well."
Carrollwood Day was certainly on from the beginning. It hit 54.5 percent of its field goals in a spacious gym that doesn't lend itself to high scoring. Nohra credits that to a two-hour practice session on Saturday in the USF Sun Dome. And the full-court press defense was tenacious. The Patriots caused 33 turnovers.
From the opening tip, the press made it difficult for Bradenton Christian (26-2) to get up the court. Carrollwood Day forced 12 turnovers in the first quarter alone and got several easy layups.
Early in the game, CDS had a slim 5-4 lead before taking control. Erin Brown, who scored all of her nine points in the first half, hit a 10-footer, and Tarriyonna Gary followed with a 15-footer to make it 9-4. Later in the quarter the Patriots went on an 8-0 run, highlighted by two Mays' layups and led 24-10 after one quarter.
It didn't stop in the second. The Patriots started the quarter on a 10-2 run that included a 3-pointer by Jackie Laihinen and a short jumper from Brown. By halftime, CDS led 40-19 and had the Panthers frustrated.
"We weren't nervous at all," Mays said. "We've been talking about all these teams from the beginning so we were kind of excited for this."
McMillan came out firing in the third quarter. She scored three straight baskets, including a 3-pointer, to help CDS expand the lead to 47-23. When Gary hit a 15-footer midway through the third, the Patriots led 55-25 and the game was played with a running clock the rest of the way.
Aside from Mays and McMillan, Gary was also tough to defend with 11 points. Brown had nine, and Weeyah McGill had six points and six rebounds.
"We prepared to break the press but you don't really know how it's going to go until you see it," Bradenton Christian guard Bailey Sikkema said. "It just didn't work out and the better team won."
Carrollwood Day didn't stop pressing the Panthers, which was the game plan.
"I wasn't going to let Bradenton Christian run their offense," Nohra said. "They are very methodical. Either you are going to break my press or we're going to take the ball away from you. One of those two things was going to happen."
The Patriots have now won 16 straight, dating to an overtime loss to Plant on Dec. 29. They certainly played well enough to have confidence against FAMU, despite never playing for a championship before.
"I think we just need to keep our heads in the right place," guard Jaden Harris said. "What helped us tonight was that we were focused and just did what we had to do. That's what we have to do on Thursday."