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Armwood girls secure region final spot vs. state powerhouse

On Friday, the Hawks will play Winter Haven, which is vying for a sixth state championship.
After defeating Lakeland George Jenkins for the district championship, Armwood knocked the same team out of regionals with a 66-49 victory Tuesday night.
After defeating Lakeland George Jenkins for the district championship, Armwood knocked the same team out of regionals with a 66-49 victory Tuesday night. [ DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Feb. 17
Updated Feb. 17

SEFFNER — Not much changed in the past 11 days for Armwood.

After defeating Lakeland George Jenkins by 25 points on Feb. 5 for the district championship, the Hawks duplicated their success over the Eagles on Tuesday with a 66-49 victory in a Class 6A region semifinal.

Next up for Armwood (10-4) is Winter Haven, a perennial Polk County powerhouse and MaxPreps’ second-ranked 6A team with a 17-1 record. The Hawks and Blue Devils, who advanced with a win against St. Cloud, play for a state tournament berth Friday. Winter Haven is going for its sixth state crown.

“It’s a monster challenge. ... It’s definitely a huge challenge to play them,” Armwood coach Ben Bromley said. “But I tell my girls to be champions, you have to play champions and you’ve got to play against the best.”

Armwood struggled most of the first half against George Jenkins despite owning a pair of eight-point leads. The Eagles tied the score twice (at 25 and 27) late in the first half, but the Hawks ended the second period with six points in the final 30 seconds to start a 20-5 spurt — giving Armwood a 47-32 lead with 2 1/2 minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Hawks allowed only one field goal during that stretch and started the second half by making seven of their first nine shots from the floor.

“We just played (George Jenkins) a week or so ago for the district championship, and I think some of our girls came in feeling confident because we had won that,” Bromley said. “I tried to tell them that any good team that gets another shot at you, they’re going to make adjustments. That’s what they did.

“We started this game out really slow. (In) the first quarter, we missed 11 layups ... and that was really bad for us. That’s 22 points that should be on that scoreboard, and it just didn’t happen for us.”

George Jenkins rallied within 58-48 with 3 1/2 minutes remaining in the game, but a layup by senior Tavi’yanna Habib stopped the Eagles’ rally. The Hawks committed 10 turnovers in the fourth quarter, and the Eagles didn’t capitalize by missing their final nine shots of the contest.

Habib led Armwood with 24 points, 17 in the first half. Sophomore Maraya Cheek scored 14 of her 18 points after intermission. George Jenkins was led by Oliyah Stephens (16 points), Taylor Brown (12) and Jalia Glover (11).

Armwood improved its region semifinal record to 4-0 since 2014, but the Hawks will be looking to snap a three-game losing streak in the ensuing round — losing to Daytona Beach Father Lopez (2019), Orlando Edgewater (2016) and Naples Barron Collier (2014). Armwood’s most recent trip to the final four came in 2000, when it edged Sarasota Booker 42-40 for the region championship before falling to Titusville Astronaut 51-32 in the state semifinals.

“Winter Haven is one of the top programs in the state, not just this year, but every year,” Bromley said. “I hope to build this program into something like that. Hopefully, we can get up for the challenge and leave it all on the court.”