Buchholz looks for elusive state finals berth
Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 9:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 9:09 p.m.
The previous two years, the Buchholz girls basketball team was expected to make it to Lakeland for the state tournament and did.
Class 7A state semifinals
Today's games in Lakeland
GAME 1: Buchholz vs. Tampa Freedom, 2:30 p.m. Watch online at bit.ly/YJJ0dx
GAME 2: Haines City vs. Davie Nova, 4 p.m.
Problem was, the Bobcats came home empty-handed.
Losing four starters from last year's state semifinal squad, expectations were a lot lower this season. But that lone returning starter, Jessica Thomas, knew better.
“A lot of people are probably doubting us since we lost so many people, and it will be hard,” Thomas said during her University of Miami signing ceremony in November. “It is a very different type of team, but as the season goes on, we will learn how to adapt and learn how to win.”
Well, guess who is back in Lakeland?
Led by Thomas, the No. 2 Bobcats (26-4) have a 2:30 p.m. date with No. 4 Tampa Freedom (25-3) in today's Class 7A state semifinals at The Lakeland Center. That Buchholz has reached the final four three straight years is an accomplishment in itself, but make no mistake, the goal is to win it.
“I'm sure a lot of people thought we wouldn't make it this far, but like I said at my signing, just expect the unexpected,” Thomas said Wednesday. “The first year it was a goal just getting to Lakeland. For two years we have had that. This year the goal is just to win it all and bring it back home.”
The winner of Buchholz-Freedom will play the winner of today's other 7A state semifinal (Haines City-Davie Nova) in Saturday's championship at 5:05 p.m.
Thomas is a huge reason why Buchholz has another shot. The senior guard, who averages 30 points a game, had 47 with seven 3-pointers in an 84-79 overtime win at Viera in the Region 1 final on Saturday. She made three free throws with 2.1 seconds left to force OT.
“I think the girls realized when we are up we have to stay up and make the fight a little easier for us,” said Buchholz coach Rebecca Williams. “We were up by nine and kind of let them back in the game with turnovers. That type of game is going to help us down the stretch these next two games.”
“It brings a lot of confidence towards myself and our team,” Thomas said of the win. “They finally realize I am there for them and we are there for each other.”
The Bobcats have also had great play from junior guard Jaz Rollins, also a 3-point threat who averages 16 points per game. Freshmen Keona Thompson (12.0 rpg), Chelsea Clark and Aniya Noble all contributed in the win over Viera.
“Probably no one in their right mind would put three freshmen in at the same time,” Williams said. “They are young, but I told them to leave it all out on the floor, and they did that.”
Freedom, which lost two of games at the Rob Moramarco Challenge at Buchholz in January, is led by 6-foot-2 center Faith Woodard, a Georgetown signee, who averages 26 points and 10 rebounds a game.
Last year Buchholz came into Lakeland ranked No. 1 and the favorite to win it all. But in its 61-57 state semifinal loss to Haines City, Buchholz struggled from the start, going 2-of-16 from the floor and 0-of-10 on 3-pointers to score just five points in the first period. The Hornets also had a huge edge at the free-throw line, hitting 27-of-32 for the game.
“I learned it is not always the better team that wins,” Williams said. “You can't go in there thinking that you got it as soon as you get there. You got to work for what you want. This group of kids here is my unexpected group. I told them nobody expected us to be where we are right now. If we keep faith, play hard and worry about our team, we should be fine.”