After watching Choctaw’s 55-48 6A semifinal win over seventh-ranked Winter Haven, the fourth consecutive ranked victim to fall in the Indians’ perfect 31-0 season, defending champion Edgewater decided to make a loud statement of its own in the other semifinal.
Forward Nyla Shuler pulled down a monster double-double of 23 points – on an efficient 10-for-14 shooting effort while hitting all three 3-pointers – and 14 rebounds, point guard Trimaine McCullough added 17 points and six assists, and the Fightin’ Eagles shot 51 percent from the floor en route to a 60-45 win over No. 1 ranked Miami Norland.
So what did Choctaw head coach Don Brown learn from the dominant display, aside from the fact that Saturday’s championship, which is set to tipoff at 12:35 p.m. locally, will be yet another postseason battle?
“They’re very athletic, very fast,” he said. “They have a very cohesive group that plays together and can shoot the ball well.”
Facing a perennial powerhouse won’t be anything new for the third-ranked Indians, who entered the final four with wins over second-ranked Pine Forest, sixth-ranked Pensacola and ninth-ranked St. Augustine.
The same could be said for Edgewater, which knocked off fourth-ranked Gainesville in a 78-62 region final win before “upsetting” top-ranked Norland. Including those two victories, the Fightin’ Eagles have outscored their four foes in the state tournament by a collective 113 points (an average margin of 28.3 points).
The lopsided results are in direct contrast to the path of Choctaw, which has won its four state tournament games by a collective 14 points – Thursday’s seven-point game, two three-point affairs and a 1-point win over Pine Forest that ended with a Brittany Brown buzzer-beater. Edgewater, though, had the benefit of playing two unranked opponents in the region quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, which were decided by a collective 82 points. Meahwhile, Choctaw faced a pair of 2012 final four participants in the same rounds.
While Edgewater has been to this stage before, the Indians are breaking new ground in the program’s first state championship showing. Coach Brown said the final four setting took some getting used to, but after getting their feet wet Wednesday, the Indians are embracing the spotlight.
“It’s a different atmosphere,” he said. “This is the first time our kids have experienced this but they got a feel for it in the second half (of Wednesday’s semifinal win). It just took some time to get comfortable.”
In that seven-point historical win, Brittany Brown scored 26 points and dished out seven assists, Lauren Day finished with 17 points on 7 of 10 shooting to go along with seven boards, and the Indians rode a 14-of-19 effort from the charity stripe to outscore the Blue Devils 20-14 in the fourth quarter. The final frame included 12 points from Brittany Brown, marking her third straight game with double-digit points in the fourth quarter.
How the Fightin’ Eagles will adjust for the 5-foot-9 Florida State University signee and the 6-foot Day remain to be seen. Winter Haven did a solid job in blanketing Brittany Brown on the perimeter, as represented by her 6-of-26 shooting effort, but in the clutch the Blue Devils couldn’t keep her out of the lane or off the free throw line. As for Day, who plays alongside 6-footers Tasharah Sanders and Shavonna Spaw, the Fightin’ Eagles don’t match up well height-wise with their tallest player being 5-10.
How the Indians utilize Brown and that size advantage, though, remains to be seen.
“We’re going to get our game plan together,” coach Brown said. “We’ll discuss how we want to play them and come Saturday we’ll be prepared.”