LAKELAND — As the buzzer sounded throughout The Lakeland Center Wednesday evening, Seffner Christian’s Sabrina Whiting and Peyton Walker held each other at mid-court, tears streaming down their faces.
In their third and final appearance together in Lakeland, the annual site of the state basketball finals, they sobbed knowing the most thrilling season in program history, and their time together as teammates, had come to an unfortunate ending.
Playing in the team’s first state championship game, Seffner Christian lost to No. 1-ranked Miami Country Day, 65-51, in the Class 3A state championship, ending their season at 28-6 and ranked No. 3 in the 3A state poll.
Walker, a junior, led Seffner Christian with 23 points and 11 rebounds, while Whiting, a senior and the school’s all-time leading scorer with more than 2,000 points, had 16 points before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
“It definitely feels good to come this far,” said Whiting, who will play on the inaugural women’s team at Embry-Riddle this winter. “It’s the farthest anyone has gone in school history, and we made history. It’s an awesome feeling to have it with these girls.”
For months, Seffner Christian’s girls basketball team prepared for a would-be bout with Miami Country Day. Yet on Wednesday, an unknown member of the Spartans ultimately led to Miami’s victory. Seventh-grader Maria Alvarez made four 3-pointers within the first four minutes of the game, giving Miami a 17-6 lead and putting Seffner Christian in a hole it could not climb out of.
“The little seventh-grader hurt us early,” said Seffner Christian coach Greg Fawbush.
Alvarez finished with 15 points, as did Channise Lewis. Danielle Minott, who has signed with Syracuse, was held to six points.
The Crusaders closed to within nine points of Miami Country Day (28-3) twice during the third quarter and appeared to have momentum in their favor.
“They were getting frustrated with each other, and everyone knows when a team is on each other, that’s when they’re at their easiest to get,” Walker said.
But Miami went on a 17-0 run through the fourth quarter to take a 26-point lead.
“I told the girls this is the worst feeling you can imagine,” Fawbush said. “When we look at it tomorrow and the next day, we can find a lot of positives in this.”