Familiarity breeds contempt.
As Ferguson has joined Miami High among the powerhouse basketball programs in South Florida, the two teams have met quite a few times over the past handful of years.
Facing each other for the fifth time in the regional finals in as many years, it was Miami High that rallied back from a halftime deficit and emerged victorious Friday night – defeating Ferguson 50-48 in an intense battle in front of a capacity crowd at The Asylum to clinch a spot in the Class 9A state semifinals.
Ferguson, which had knocked Miami High out of the playoffs each of the past two years, did have a shot at a miracle comeback. Regaining possession with seven seconds left after a Stingarees turnover, the Falcons inbounded the ball to Mercy Gonzalez but her three-pointer fell well short of the basket and went out of bounds – giving the ball back to Miami High with one second left.
As the final second ran off, Miami High (26-4) fans and players rushed the court in celebration, since the Lady Stings had clinched a trip to Lakeland – their first since 2015, when they won the Class 8A title – where it will face Deerfield Beach on March 2.
Miami High head coach Sam “Boozer” Baumgarten, who let out a celebratory yell as fans and players celebrated around him, said that Friday’s victory proved all the naysayers wrong.
“All we heard was that [Ferguson] was going to beat us… that we weren’t good enough,” Baumgarten said while holding back tears. “This [win] means the world. These kids have been working their [butts] off every day. We showed everyone how good we are – in our house – tonight.”
The Lady Stingarees, who had lost to the Lady Falcons three weeks ago in the GMAC championship game, took a 42-40 lead at the start of the fourth quarter thanks to a Darria Whitley three-pointer (her only field goal of the night) and never relinquished it – staving off Ferguson with timely shots.
Colleen Buckner scored 11 of her 13 points – and grabbed six of her game-high 10 rebounds – in the second half to power Miami High’s rally. It was Buckner who sank a pair of free throws to put the Stingarees up 50-46 with just under 30 seconds left in the game.
Janiffer Rodriguez led the way in scoring for Miami High, totaling 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the field. Shekinah Rachel and Jennie Scott each added seven points for the Stings.
The Falcons (25-4), who had made back to back runs to the state final four the past two seasons but was never able to come back with a title, led by as many as seven (38-31) midway through the third quarter but the trio of foul trouble, turnovers and poor shooting ultimately caught up with them.
Ferguson’s leading scorer Natalia Pineda, an Eastern Michigan commit, picked up her third foul late in the second quarter – after she scored seven points in the first quarter – then picked up her fourth foul not even two minutes into the third quarter. Saddled with four fouls, Pineda sat the rest of third quarter and the early part of the fourth. She ended up fouling out with 1:17 left in the game – still stuck with those seven points.
Sheslanie Laureano and Gonzalez tried to pick up the scoring slack in Pineda’s absence. Laureano led the team with 14 points, but also committed a game-high six turnovers, while Gonzalez finished with 10 points – all of which she scored in the second half. Yaire Rodriguez went scoreless (0-for-6) but contributed five rebounds, five assists, and three steals.
The Falcons, who were playing their first season under new head coach Tom Jicha since he took over for Gabriel Lazo – who became an assistant coach for FIU’s women’s team – shot just 9-for-26 from the field in the second half.
Baumgarten said his team’s game plan worked to perfection Friday night.
“No disrespect to anyone, but we’ve been game-planning for [Ferguson] for two weeks,” Baumgarten admitted. “That’s why we looked a little sloppy in the other two games. We’ve been focusing on them. We knew we had to focus on them. We wanted to take Sheslanie out and Natalia out.”
“The girls bought into the game plan and executed it well.”
Region 4-9A Final: Miami High 50, Ferguson 48 – FER (25-4): Laureano 14, Gonzalez 10, Chalston 9, Pineda 7, Cheyenne 6, Hunter 2. MH (26-4): J. Rodriguez 14, Buckner 13, Rachel 7, Scott 7, Whitley 5, Ward 4. Halftime: FER 27-22. Three-pointers: Laureano 2, Gonzalez 2, Chalston 2, Pineda, Whitley, Rodriguez, Buckner, Scott. Fouled Out: Pineda. Technical Foul: Scott, Y. Rodriguez. Rebounds: Buckner 10. Assists: 2 tied 3. Steals: Rachel 3.