By Dave Brousseau
LAKELAND – Hold your breath for the final 5.3 seconds.
They did and Dillard survived to defeat Nease 43-40 for the girls Class 7A state championship at RP Funding Center on Saturday.
The championship was the 10th for the school and for coach Marcia Pinder, who just complete her 42nd season. Dillard is now just two state titles from Jacksonville Rubault’s record of 12. The win also improved Pinder career record to 968-217.
Dillard’s championship gave Broward County a record three state titles this season. They joined Somerset Prep (2A) and American Heritage (5A, who won earlier this week.
Dillard (26-5) nearly let a 11-point lead late in the third quarter lead slip through their fingers.
Nease (29-2) began chipping away at the deficit and closed to within five with a mini 6-0 run. The eventually closed to 41-40 of the lead with 59.5 seconds left in regulation.
“We wanted to slow it down to get a good shot,” said Pinder. “We didn’t want to go down to shoot just to shoot. We wanted to run time off the clock and make a good basket.
We had some uncharacteristic turnovers that cost us and allowed them to get back into the game.”
Senior guard Genovea Johnson made perhaps the most important free throws of her Dillard career with 56.1 seconds left for a 43-40 advantage.
Free throws hadn’t been a commodity for Dillard as they shot just 53.3 percent from the line for the game.
Nease was in position for the final shot to possibly send the game into overtime. The averages were against them as they had made only 1 of 13 prior to the last attempt just before the final buzzer.
“We were uncomfortable a bit, but we have a bench,” added Pinder
Senior center Raven White, a Southern University signee, made the lone basket for Dillard in the final quarter with an and one to follow that gave Dillard a 41-36 lead with 2:31 left.
“We just knew time was running down and every basket counted at that point,” said White, who finished with 10 points. “Any shot I took and had to have for my team.”
Dillard built what seemed like a comfortable 11-point lead by dropping a triplet of 3-pointers in the third quarter to help extend their lead to 37-28 heading into the decisive fourth quarter.
Kintaeja Ling, who led Dillard with 11 points, sank a two of her three 3-pointers of the game, while Mattair added another.
This was familiar territory for Ling late in the season. She sank three in a comeback win over St. Thomas in the BCAA Big 8 final and again in the Panthers state semifinal win on Friday.
Dillard took a 7-6 lead on a Johnson free throw with 3:12 left in the first quarter and never trailed the remainder of the first half. Nease did however, tie the score three times in the second quarter.
White and Johnson, who combined to lead Dillard in its semifinal win with 34 points and 21 rebounds were confined to seven points and six rebounds in the opening half.
DILLARD 43, NEASE 40
N (29-2): Carter 4-1-9, Hobby 3-3-9, Turner 2-0-5, Manherz 3-1-7, Robinson 4-2-10.
D (26-5): Johnson 3-4-10, White 4-1-19, Christia 1-0-2, Mattair 2-3-9, Burrows 1-0-2, Ling 4-0-11.
3-pointers: Ling 3, Mattair 2, Turner. Half: D 18-17.