The state girls basketball tournament had become a symbol of unfulfilled hope for St. Cloud.
But with Dana Smith filling up the hoop, hopes became reality for the Bulldogs. St. Cloud pulled away from Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas in the fourth quarter to produce a 51-44 victory in the Class 4A championship game.
It was the first time in four consecutive trips to the state tournament that St. Cloud won the title.
"I'm happy, but I'm sad," said Smith, who will attend Florida next year. "This is my last year with these guys. I wish I could take them with me. I wish I could come back next year and do it again."
Smith, the most prolific scorer in state high school history with 3,469 points, hit four free throws with less than a minute to seal the victory. She finished with 28 points and is now ahead of former Hialeah Miami Lakes star Chris Corchiani on the state's all-time scoring list.
Nationally, Smith ranks sixth, just ahead of former USC star Cheryl Miller.
The two teams were tied at 33 going into the final period, but the Bulldogs broke out to a 40-35 lead and then held on for the win. The Raiders scored only one point during a three-minute span late in the game.
St. Thomas closed within five when Barbara Barnes hit a short jumper with 12 seconds remaining, but the Raiders never got any closer.
The most impressive team at the tournament may be Class B Paxton, which totally outclassed both of its opponents in capturing the state title.
After beating Lakeland Christian 91-47 in the B semifinal, the Cats downed Fort Lauderdale Christian 100-45, scoring the most points in state girls basketball history.
Forward Latonya Washington scored 42 points to lead Paxton, hitting 12 of 24 shots, including five three-point goals. Washington also had 12 rebounds and 11 steals.
The Cats turned their 15-8 first-quarter advantage into a 49-20 halftime advantage. In the final period, Paxton outscored Fort Lauderdale Christian 29-6.
Along with Washington, four other players scored in double figurs for the Cats: Ligaya Brown (16), Jessica Jones (11), Heather Haddock (10) and Amy Pridgen (10).
In the Class 2A game, Keystone Heights wore Wildwood down with its fullcourt pressure to come away with a 73-59 victory. The Indians trailed by six at the half, but took a 41-39 lead into the fourth quarter.
Down the stretch, Keystone hit 20-of-25 free throws to hold off the Wildcats. Elise Moore was 9-of-11 from the line and finished with 19 points while Jessica Dykes scored a game-high 22.
Wildwood was led by Tarra Blackwell's 22 points, while Anita Brooks had 14 and Tamara Hall added 12.
Girls basketball tourney
Class B: Paxton 100, F.L. Christian 45
Class 2A: Keystone Hts 73, Wildwood 59
Class 4A: St. Cloud 51, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas 44
Class A: Quincy Munroe vs. Graceville, 3:30
Class 3A: Riviera Beach Suncoast vs. Jax Ribault, 5:30
Class 5A: Fort Walton Beach vs. Miami Norland, 7:30