It’s not often that a program as storied as Miami Norland will “give the keys” to a freshman.
Lady Vikings head coach Carla Harris, who has led the program to the state final four on eight occasions and won a pair of state championships, put her faith in freshman point guard Jayiah Smith and it is paying dividends.
Smith scored nine of her 11 points in the second half while also tallying team-highs in rebounds (6), assists (5), and steals (3) to lead Norland to a 46-31 win over visiting Doral Academy in the region 4-7A semifinals Tuesday night.
Norland (19-9) will face Fort Lauderdale Dillard (22-4) Friday in the region 4-7A final – with the winner clinching a berth in the state semifinals, which will be played in Lakeland’s RP Funding Center (formerly The Lakeland Center).
The 5-foot-5 floor general seemed to make every right decision in the second half – whether it was getting her teammates involved with her four second-half assists or finding her own shot – like the floater in the lane she drained over the outstretched arms of defenders that pushed Norland’s lead to double-digits early in the fourth quarter.
Smith came up big in the fourth quarter, but it was senior guard Edreanna Jackson that gave the Vikings the spark they needed at the start of the second half.
After scoring just two points in the second quarter and trailing Doral Academy 18-16 at halftime, Jackson tripled the Vikings second-quarter output in just two trips up the court when she drained a pair of three-pointers as a part of an 8-0 Norland run.
Jackson, who ended up making 3-of-5 three-pointers in the second half, finished with a game-high 12 points while Geraldine Seide added eight points and four rebounds as Norland outscored the Lady Firebirds 30-13 over the final 16 minutes of the game.
Doral Academy, which defeated Norland in the regional quarterfinals this past season, seemed to falter in almost every facet of the game after halftime. The Firebirds went cold from the field – going 5-for-19 in the second half – and committed 10 turnovers in the final two quarters.
Firebirds junior Elymarias Rodriguez, who led the team with seven points in the first half, ended up with just eight points (3-of-12 from the field); 6-foot-6 senior Samantha Vega collected a game-high 11 rebounds and four blocks but was just 1-of-6 and finished with five points. Junior Ruby Lopez was a perfect 3-for-3 from the field (2-for-2 from three-point range) to finish with eight points.
Once the Lady Vikings pushed their lead to double figures early in the fourth, Doral Academy only got as close as 38-30 before Norland ended the game on an 8-1 run.
Harris, who joined in with her team for a postgame celebratory dance, said that she made a few halftime adjustments but that the girls mainly had to calm down and play basketball.
“I felt like they were a little jittery in the first half,” Harris said of her team. “We’re a young team that only one senior that has actual game experience of playing on the floor in Lakeland, so all of this…the playoff road…is new to them. We just adjusted the way that they were attacking [Doral Academy’s] defense and continued to play good defense.”
“As far celebrating with the team, I thought back to one of our state championship years when we went 32-0 and I was so stern and intense that I didn’t enjoy the moments with the team,” Harris said. “Now, I want to make sure that I’m living in the moment and having fun.”
Region 4-7A Semifinals: Norland 46, Doral Academy 31 – DA (23-8): Rodriguez 8, Lopez 8, Avilez 7, Vega 5, Barrios 3. NOR (19-9): E. Jackson 12, Smith 11, Seide 8, Joseph 6, Powell 4, S. Jackson 3, Marc 2. Halftime: DA 18-16. Three-pointers: E. Jackson 4, Lopez 2, Rodriguez, Barrios. Fouled Out: None. Technicals: None. Rebounds: Smith 6. Assists: Smith 6. Steals: Smith 3.