By Dave Brousseau
LAKELAND – At times it can be difficult to watch, but the steady dose of defense with just enough offense has been the right combination for the Miami High girls’ basketball team.
It worked again on Friday at the Stingarees advanced to their third straight state championship game with a 57-44 victory over Timber Creek in a Class 7A state semifinal at the RP Funding Center.
The Stingarees have won nine straight and 16 of their last 17 games. They will also be playing in their eighth state championship since 2004, where they’ll be seeking a fourth state title over that time.
Miami (26-5) will face Tampa Plant (30-1) for the championship on Saturday at 8 p.m. It will be the seventh different team the Stingarees have faced in the championship since 2005.
“The kids came to play and a group of seniors with un-finished business,” said Miami High coach Sam Baumgarten. “We play more small ball than usual. Defensively this may not be the best we’ve had, but they do the job.”
The Stingarees look to win their first state championship since 2015. They have lost in the final each of the last two seasons.
In advancing to the final, Miami did snap a streak of five consecutive games at the state tournament scoring under 50 points. They also held their opponent under 50 points in eight of the last nine games.
“Miami applied a lot of pressure,” said Timber Creek coach Freddie Cintron. “They pushed us out just enough to make us uncomfortable and their experience being here before helped.”
At the start of the fourth quarter, Timber Creek (23-8) cut the deficit to 36-30 giving the Stingarees a wake up call.
Darria Whitley scored for Miami with 6:38 left to kick start a 12-2 that essentially buried their opponent. She finished with 14 points.
Kiara Cruz, who led the team with 15 points, helped her team reach 50 points with 1:57 play.
Jeannie Scott also added 13 points for Miami.
Miami’s good start helped build a 32-19 lead at the half, a lead they never relinquished.
MIAMI HIGH 57, TIMBER CREEK 44
TC (23-8): Shanahan 1-2-4, Fray Chinn 5-2-12, Ortiz 2-0-4, Napoli 1-2-4, Henderson 1-4-6, Avery 5-4-14.
MH (26-5): Bucknor 2-1-5, Terry 1-0-2, Scott 6-0-13, Whitley 4-6-14, Quinn 1-1-3, Cruz 5-1-15, Peterson 1-0-2, Lucas 1-1-3.
3-pointers: Cruz 4, Scott, Avery. Half: MH 32-19.