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Keswick Christian’s first state appearance in 20 years is brief

The Crusaders have trouble finding their shooting touch against Florida A&M University High.
Points were hard to come by in the first half for forward Jakara Akins, left, and Keswick Christian, which trailed Florida A&M 22-16 at the half of a Class 2A state semifinal Wednesday afternoon. [SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times]

LAKELAND — Keswick Christian picked the wrong day to go into a shooting slump.

The Crusaders struggled to make baskets against Tallahassee Florida A&M University High and eventually lost the Class 2A state semifinal, 52-39, Wednesday afternoon at the RP Funding Center. Keswick (29-2) was making its first appearance at the state tournament since 2000. The Rattlers (17-7) will play Florida Prep for the state championship Friday.

The 39 points scored was the lowest total since the Crusaders scored 26 in their only other loss, to Clarksville (Tenn.).

“They put the ball in the basket and we didn’t; that was the biggest thing,” Keswick Christian coach Karrmayne King said. “We just couldn’t score.”

Related: Keswick Christian’s Karrmayne King earns 600th girls basketball win

Neither team was particularly sharp throughout the game, especially in the first half. The Crusaders made only 3-of-26 field-goal attempts (11.5 percent) and endured a scoring drought of 12 minutes, 24 seconds between the first and second quarters. Still, they were only down 22-16 at halftime because the Rattlers were not very accurate either. FAMU was 10-for-24 from the field and made only 2 of 8 free throws.

Keswick Christian players stand for the national anthem before playing in a Class 2A state semifinal. [SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times]

Keswick Christian led 7-3 with 5:38 to go in the first quarter after Marissa McCauley made a 3-pointer, Yasmin Baroni made a layup and Jakara Akins made two free throws. But from there the Rattlers scored 17 straight and led 20-7 near the end of the second.

Akins broke the drought with two free throws, then made a 3-pointer 21 seconds later to cut the lead to 20-12. Four more made free throws helped Keswick chip away by halftime.

“It took us a while to get adjusted,” senior guard Rylee Hannon said. “You could see from the first quarter that our shots just weren’t falling.”

As bad as things were in the first half, Keswick was by no means out of the game. That was King’s message to her team in the locker room.

“Just told them to keep going,” she said. “Don’t worry about calls, missed shots, turnovers. Just go play. Just keep doing what we do. We did work hard, just couldn’t get the ball to drop.”

Despite the pep talk, things didn’t get much better in the second half. The Crusaders managed only six points in the third quarter as the Rattlers built the lead up to 35-22 with eight minutes to play. They did cut the lead to nine early in the fourth when Akins hit another 3-pointer. But the Rattlers kept getting to the basket and scoring either layups or free throws.

Keswick Christian guard Sydney Jackwin, left, and guard Marissa McCauley, right, huddle up for a consoling hug with Jakara Akins moments after loss was sealed. [SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times]

Keswick kept the lead to around 10 points until the final three minutes. That’s when FAMU scored five straight points and put the game out of reach.

For the game, Keswick was 13-for-53 from the field. The Crusaders made just 3 of 19 3-point attempts, and one of those was the first shot taken in the game. They were 10-for-22 from the free-throw line. Each team committed 33 turnovers.

“We were frustrated but we had to keep trying,” said Akins, a senior.

Akins led Keswick with 12 points. Sophomore Sydney Jackwin scored 11. They were the only Crusaders in double figures.

Keswick Christian finally advanced to the state tournament after three tries in the region final. They were trying to win the school’s first state championship. King, who reached the 600 wins milestone during last week’s region final, said she’s proud of her team and believes this isn’t the last trip to Lakeland.

“They’ve been a huge blessing to me as coach, just to watch them grow,” King said. "It’s been an amazing season. We fell short today but I’m proud of them.

“We’ll be back.”

Keswick Christian guard Sydney Jackwin, left, looks for an opening against Florida A&M's Jade Dubois. [SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times]

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