LAKELAND — Carrollwood Day finally gets to celebrate.
Playing in their fourth straight state title game, the Patriots needed overtime to defeat Oviedo Masters Academy 48-42 on Saturday morning in the Class 3A final at the RP Funding Center. It is the school’s first girls basketball championship.
The Patriots (27-2) lost the past three state title games, one to Florida A&M High and two to Miami Country Day. Saturday, they battled back from a halftime deficit, tied the score at 37 with just over a minute to go and outscored the Eagles 11-5 in overtime.
“Every year we are supposed to go to lunch and then we never do because we lose," senior guard Tarriyonna Gary said. “We’re going to a good lunch now. We’re going to celebrate."
The fact that the Patriots played Masters Academy was a bit of a surprise. The Eagles came back to upset Miami Country Day in the semifinals, which also went into overtime. Carrollwood Day coach Karim Nohra expected to play Country Day and had planned for that scenario.
“I had to scramble to get a game plan for Masters," Nohra said. “I put it in (Friday) night at practice. We worked on it for about 40 minutes. It’s the first time we’ve run that defense."
The defense was a 2-1-2 that extended defenders out to the 3-point line. It helped hold the Eagles to 6-of-29 shooting from long range, but Carrollwood Day didn’t play very well on offense either.
The Patriots trailed 20-19 at halftime, thanks mainly to 8-of-32 shooting from the field and going 3 of 8 from the free-throw line. The Eagles (26-6) didn’t shoot much better. They made only 7-of-24 shots and turned the ball over 13 times.
Masters Academy led most of the first half. The largest lead was 17-11 early in the second quarter when Hannah Kohn hit a 3-pointer. Carrollwood Day tied it at 18 with 1:10 left when junior Aryana Dizon hit a jumper. But it was clear after two quarters that the Patriots were going to have to play better.
Carrollwood Day shot only 32 percent for the game, but got baskets when it needed them. The Eagles kept a two-point lead for most of the fourth quarter. A Tiasia McMillan layup with 4:14 left tied the score at 33. With 3:29 left, Dizon made a layup that tied it at 35.
Gary then made a jumper with just over a minute left to give Carrollwood Day a brief 37-35 lead. Masters Academy tied it with a minute left. The Patriots tried to play for the last shot after that, but turned the ball over in the final seconds. Masters Academy was not able to convert in regulation.
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“As long as we were right there with them I wasn’t fearful," Nohra said. “As long as they didn’t make that run like they did against Country Day then I was happy. At the end I knew we would overpower."
Sophomore Milahnie Perry (12 points) connected for a 3-pointer to start overtime. It was the only 3 the Patriots made all morning.
“My first thought was the get back on defense and not let them score," Perry said.
Masters Academy didn’t score. Two defensive stops led to three made free throws and grew the lead to 43-37. After a three-point play by the Eagles, Gary (14 points) sealed the game with two straight layups, one of which was also a three-point play.
At the final buzzer, Carrollwood players piled on each other and let loose tears of joy.
“I’m so happy we finally overcame being runners-up," Gary said. “There’s an empty feeling in our bodies every time we lost. We didn’t want to feel that again. We had to come into this game with high intensity and never give up."
For Nohra, it’s more relief. As a coach at both Academy at the Lakes and Carrollwood Day, he has been part of nine state tournaments. This was his sixth state final and first state championship team he has coached.
“We get to celebrate," Nohra said. “We’re happy that we get to bring one back to Tampa and Carrollwood Day."