ST. PETERSBURG – A fluid but physical inside game vs. a baseline-to-baseline, full-court press defense, hustle vs. muscle. Saturday night's girls hoop finale of Keswick Christian's Suncoast Classic promises to be an entertaining one.
By virtue of its 59-45 victory over Calvary Christian in Friday's first semifinal, Northeast (now 12-3) will be bringing a dominating paint presence to the final in the form of forwards Kanesha Hall, Angel Smith and Kelsee Milligan.
In a commanding second half, Hall helped the Vikings finally break free from a short-handed but pesky Warrior squad. The sophomore racked up 10 of her 15 rebounds in the final 16 minutes, seven on the offensive glass, and wore out a path to the free throw line in the fourth quarter to finish with 13 points.
"Coach (Will White) told me during a timeout to get to the boards," said Hall, who also added three steals to her statline. "We play defense-to-offense transition – our defense creates our offense. Every practice, we work on it."
Early on it was dogged penetration from junior Smith (15 points) and senior Milligan (10 points and five offensive rebounds) that kept Northeast cooking. Calvary (4-4) countered with hot outside shooting from sophomore Mikera Patton (16 points) as the teams swapped leads 11 times.
Trailing 45-43 after a lay-in from senior Katie Williamson (14 points) one minute into the fourth, Northeast went into lockdown mode. The Warriors didn't score the rest of the night, going 0-for-12 from the field. Hall had six points in the quarter while senior Hannah Merkel (11 points on the night) and Emily Joseph (eight points) combined for seven to aid the cause.
"We didn't have 25 points and 23 rebounds in our lineup (Friday)," said Calvary coach Trent Toler of missing starters Cindy Lin and Brooke Westhoelter, "but I'm very proud of the girls. We were undersized and we got worn down. Our effort just didn't meet with execution."
A polished defensive effort from Kentucky's Muhlenberg County overwhelmed host Keswick Christian in a 61-33 semifinal verdict, denying the Crusaders another shot at Northeast and revenge for a pre-Christmas loss.
The Mustangs (10-4) brought a vicious pressure defense right out of the gate, holding the Crusaders (10-2) to just four points over the final 11 minutes of the first half to open up an insurmountable 19-point advantage (35-16) at the break.
Raegan Blackburn drove the offense for the victors, finishing with 24 points on 10-of-19 shooting, adding five rebounds and five steals. Grace Hauslein (five points and five steals), Destin Armour (eight poitns and four steals) and Erica Cary (nine points and four thefts) were also ball hawks as Muhlenberg registered 31 steals.
Jakara Akins showed a strong inside-outside game as she led Keswick with 12 points and nine rebounds. Sydney Jackwin (four rebounds and three steals) and Halee Hannon (six boards) added six points each for the Crusaders.
In Saturday's boys tourney final, Mount Dora Christian will face Bradenton Manatee as both teams registered convincing victories.
Mount Dora (8-2) rode a hot hand from smooth-shooting Taylor Trudeau to defeat Northeast, 78-57.
Trudeau, who owns the Bulldogs' single-game scoring record (62 points last season), tossed in 17 points, including three 3-pointers in the opening eight minutes to create a 16-point lead that the Vikings couldn't lessen.
The bespectacled junior finished with 44 points, giving him 71 in the tourney's first two contests.
Northeast (6-5) had a balanced attack led by senior Terrel Ballard and junior Jermaine Phillips (12 points each) as well as junior Alfonso Franklin (11 points).
Manatee (5-5) got strong outside shooting from Jermaine Graham (21 points, 16 in the first half) and impressive interior work from Brian Keane (11 points) to knock off host Keswick, 66-34.
The Hurricanes broke out to a 49-20 halftime advantage and pushed the game into running time midway through the third quarter.
Keswick (5-6) was led by Aaron Trill with 15 points.