Buchholz girls will play for Class 7A state title


Buchholz Bobcat players Kayla Wokosky, left, and Jessica Thomas celebrated their victory over the Freedom Patriots in 7A semi-final action during the FHSAA Girls Basketball Finals at the Lakeland Center on Friday.

Rick Runion/The Lakeland Ledger
Published: Friday, February 22, 2013 at 3:57 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 22, 2013 at 3:57 p.m.

LAKELAND — After consecutive state semifinal losses the previous two years, the Buchholz Bobcats finally took that historic step Friday in girls basketball at The Lakeland Center.

Facts

CLASS 7A FINAL

Who: No. 2 Buchholz (27-4) vs. No. 3 Davie Nova (22-7)
When: Saturday, 5:05 p.m.
Where: The Lakeland Center
Online broadcast: http://bit.ly/VC87BC or http://www.playonsports.com/channels/florida/events/50563
Note: Neither team has won a state title in girls basketball. Nova lost in last year’s final to Sebastian River.

For the first time in school history, Buchholz will play for a state title.

Senior Jessica Thomas scored 38 points, 25 in the first half, and freshman Chelsea Clark hit 8 of 8 free throws down the stretch as the No. 2 Bobcats held off No. 4 Tampa Freedom, 79-73, in the Class 7A state semifinals.

Buchholz (27-4) advances to play Davie Nova (22-7) for the championship Saturday at 5:05 p.m.

“I'm excited about the win, of course,” said Bobcats coach Rebecca Williams. “I want to keep my girls humble, because just getting to the championship game is not what we are looking for. We are looking for a state title.

“We worked hard to get here. I'm not surprised about the outcome of the game. I knew it was going to be a pretty good game. And it was.”

Buchholz, which had lost in the state semifinals its four previous appearances, opened a 19-point lead (58-39) after an inside basket from freshman center Keona Thompson with 2:05 left in the third period. But the Patriots (25-4) got back-to-back baskets from Nari Garner and standout forward Faith Woodard, and also a 3-pointer from Garner to pull within 13 (61-48) heading into the fourth.

That momentum carried on early in the fourth for Freedom, which went on a 12-4 run to pull within five, 65-60, with 3:54 left to play. But after the Bobcats called a timeout, they spread their offense, beating the Patriots full-court press and making them foul.

In the final three minutes, Buchholz hit 13 of 14 free throws, led by Clark, who at only 14 years old calmly hit every one of her eight attempts.

“It is a great feeling, but I won't be able to take that deep breath until I step on that podium as state champions,” said Thomas, who hit on 6 of 10 3-point attempts and was 8 of 9 at the free throw line. “Now, it is just one more, just one more.”

Williams had stressed all week other players would have to step up for the Bobcats to advance, and they did.

Clark finished with 12 points while junior Jaz Rollins had 10. Thompson had 10 rebounds and nine points.

“Jessica is going to be Jessica, but who else is going to step up and help Jessica?” Williams said. “This afternoon, everyone stepped up.”

“At first I was kind of nervous,” Clark said. “I knew I was going to hit them. All I had to do was flip my wrist.”

Buchholz, which struggled in last year's state semifinal, didn't Friday, although it was down 6-0 early. But Thomas' second 3-pointer gave the Bobcats a 16-13 lead, and her late jumper made it 22-18 after the first period.

An inside basket by Woodard, who had a team-high 26 points for Freedom, gave the Patriots a brief 26-24 lead in the second. But the Bobcats closed on a 15-5 run to take a 10-point lead at the half, 41-31.

Thomas, who had five 3-pointers in the first half, opened the second half with another trey, followed by a Rollins' basket and it was a 15-point advantage (46-31) early in the third.

Early in the game, Thomas took a hard foul and went down on the court, and the Bobcats faithful held its collective breath. Slowly getting up, she hobbled a little to the free throw line and hit her two free throws.

“It kind of scared me at the beginning because I haven't had that pain before in my knee,” said the Miami signee. “It was like a million thoughts were going through my head. But when I got up, it still hurt. As the game went on, adrenaline took over. And I definitely didn't feel it anymore.”

The Bobcats hit 21 of 26 from the line. Thomas had 15 of Buchholz's 22 points in the first.

“Jessica Thomas is a phenomenal player,” said Freedom coach Laurie Pacholke. “But a lot of the other girls were hitting. That's what you need at this level, you can't be one-dimensional or even two-dimensional, you have to have other kids step up.

“When Buchholz took that timeout at 3:54, we were exactly where we wanted to be. It was a situation you had to foul, and Lord, they could make their free throws. Great teams do great things.”

Contact Larry Savage at 352-374-5050 or larry.savage@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/sunpreps

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