Gulf Coast women take state
Posted Mar 11, 2017 at 7:57 PM
By Dustin Kent747-5065 | @PCNHDustinKentdkent@pcnh.com
OCALA — Heading into the 2016-17 season, Gulf Coast had a checklist of goals it hoped to meet, which included repeating as Panhandle Conference champions, repeating as region champions, and eventually repeating as national champions.
After Saturday night's 80-72 victory over Chipola in the FCSAA Women's State Basketball Championships final, there is only one goal left for the Lady Commodores to check off. Gulf Coast became the Region 8 champions for the second straight year with a hard-fought win over its Panhandle rival, rallying from as much as six points behind in the second half.
Shayla Bennett led the Lady Commodores (30-2) with 21 points, while Taylor Emery scored 18 of her 20 points in the second half and captured the tournament's Most Outstanding Player for averaging 26 points over the three games in Ocala. LaSonja Edwards also had 10 points and nine rebounds for GC, with Jhaleiya Dunlap and Shaterrika O'Neal scoring eight points each. Sydnee McDonald led Chipola with 16 points, followed by Barbara Johnson with 14, and Tiaera Phillips with 12.
The Lady Commodores will next head to Lubbock, Tex., for the NJCAA Division I National Championship March 20-25 where they will look to repeat as national champions. Regardless of whether Gulf Coast is successful in achieving another repeat, Lady Commodores coach Roonie Scovel said just being in position to do so is meaningful in its own right.
"It's pretty special," she said. "Last year, that team won the triple crown (conference, region, and national titles) and we're on two legs of it now. Whatever happens in the next 10 to 12 days, what an amazing run this has been. I asked the sophomores before the year, 'What are you going to leave behind as your legacy?' Well, if the season ended right now, it would still be pretty darn special.
"These kids came in last year and we had to regroup with some freshmen, and these kids as a sophomore group changed the culture of Gulf Coast and got it back to what we stand for and what we represent playing Gulf Coast basketball. I'm extremely proud of them to get to go back and defend that title in Lubbock."
If the Lady Commodores do finish off their run at a second straight national title, they may end up having to do it against Chipola again, with the No. 5 Lady Indians almost assured of getting an at-large bid to the national tournament. Chipola is one of just two teams to beat the Lady Commodores this year – Tallahassee being the other – winning 72-62 in their last meeting of the regular season in Panama City, limiting them to their second-lowest point total of the season with aggressive, physical defense.
The Lady Indians were again able to slow down the Gulf Coast attack early on after the Lady Commodores put up 90 and 99 points in the first two games of the tournament, holding them to just 34 points in the first half while limiting Emery to just two points.
The Lady Indians took a 36-34 lead into halftime and extended it to 45-39 following a baseline jumper from Danielle Garven and a transition two from McDonald with 6:10 left in the third quarter. But GC stormed back with a 13-2 run featuring seven points from Bennett, who started it with a transition 3-pointer and finished it with a pair of free throws to put her team up 52-47.
A desperation 3-pointer by Raven Baker-Northcross at the third quarter buzzer cut the Gulf Coast lead to 54-52, but the Lady Commodores quickly pushed it back out in the fourth with an offensive putback by Edwards, a 3-pointer from Emery, and a driving bucket by Bennett to make it 63-54 with 6:50 to play.
Chipola fought back with five straight points to get back to within four on a driving layup by Johnson, but a free throw line jumper by Emery, a spinning finish in the post by Edwards, and a transition layup by Edwards following a steal and dish by Emery, put Gulf Coast up 69-59 with 1:58 to play.
The Lady Commodores found life with a 3-pointer from Nana Sule on their next possession, but Johnson and Endia Jones combined to miss 3 of 4 free throws over the next 40 seconds that could've cut the deficit to four.
Two baskets by Phillips and another by McDonald brought Chipola to within five on three separate occasions, but the Lady Commodores made their last 10 free throws – four from Emery, four from Purifoy, and two from Bennett – to salt the game away.
Scovel said she was happy with the way her team responded in the second half and especially proud of the way they finished the game from the foul line.
"At halftime, we were down two points and I couldn't name one player playing their normal game," she said. "We were struggling, our shooters couldn't score, defenders were not stopping their attack, we weren't rebounding or blocking out well. We talked about how poorly we were playing and still only down two and we'd be fine if we just did our job.
"We came out in the second half and players stepped up. Taylor Emery did her job scoring, (O'Neal and Ty Purifoy) did their job defensively, Maria did her job with all the little details like rebounding, passing, and playing defense, and Shayla did her job scoring. We played more like our normal selves, and in the end to make 10 of 10 free throws was pretty special. That was the difference in the game."
Gulf Coast made 20 of 24 from the foul line for the game, compared to 11 of 16 for Chipola. The Lady Commodores shot 44 percent from the field for the game, including 4 of 9 from the 3-point line.
GULF COAST (80)
Fox 0 2-2 2, Purifoy 1 5-6 7, Emery 6 6-6 20, O'Neal 4 0-0 8, Bennett 7 6-6 21, Castro 1 1-2 4, Dunlap 4 0-0 8, Edwards 5 0-2 10. Totals: 28 20-24 80.
Garven 3 2-2 8, Baker-Northcross 4 1-2 12, Johnson 6 2-4 14, House 1 2-2 4, McDonald 5 3-4 16, Jones 1 1-2 3, Phillips 6 0-0 12, Sule 1 0-0 3.
Totals: 27 11-16 72.
Chipola 21 15 16 20 — 72
Gulf Coast 18 16 20 26 — 80
3-point field goals: Chipola 7 (Baker-Northcross 3, McDonald 3, Sule), Gulf Coast 4 (Emery 2, Bennett, Castro). Total fouls: Chipola 24, Gulf Coast 17. Fouled out: Johnson, Phillips. Technical fouls: none.