LAKELAND — Over the course of the season, the Seffner Christian girls basketball team logged more than 5,000 miles traveling to various tournaments and games across the country.
Since the start of the season, they team has practiced on every Saturday. During the holiday break, the team had one day off — Christmas.
So, when their season was on the brink of ending Tuesday in the Class 3A state semifinals, head coach Greg Fawbush told his players during a crucial timeout they could not let months of hard work go to waste.
The end result was a 56-48 comeback win against Calvary Christian that put the Crusaders (26-5) in the state championship game for the first time in program history.
Seffner Christian, the No. 3-ranked team in 3A, will play No. 1-ranked Miami Country Day in the state final at 4:30 p.m. today at The Lakeland Center.
Seffner Christian led by as many as 17 points in the second quarter but allowed the Warriors (24-5) to go on a 10-1 run ending the half and a 7-0 run to start the third quarter to make it a one-point game, 32-31, prompting Fawbush to call a timeout.
“It’s about momentum and it’s about desire,” Fawbush said. “I feel like we lost our desire a little bit. They were winning a couple of loose balls, but I think for the next couple of possessions we won a couple of loose balls after that (timeout).”
A 3-pointer by Saje Schlatter with 5:56 remaining in the fourth quarter gave Calvary Christian its first lead since the first quarter, 48-47. It was Schlatter’s third 3-pointer of the second half.
With 2:33 left, however, junior forward Peyton Walker made two free throws to give Seffner Christian a 49-48 lead. A minute later, Sara Denny sank two more free throws for a three-point lead.
Walker led the Crusaders with 27 points, 21 rebounds and two blocks, while Denny added 11 points. Senior guard Sabrina Whiting made 3-of-4 free throws in the final 40 seconds to close out the win.
“In practice, we literally will shoot free throws for 20 minutes,” Denny said. “We are on our free throws. Sometimes if we don’t make them, we run. Free throws is what wins ballgames. We’ve just really stressed it and I knew going up to the line that I got this because we do it at practice.”
Calvary Christian did not score in the final 5½ minutes. Carley Plentovich led Calvary Christian with 16 points and five steals.
“Calvary is a momentum team and when they took the lead I was expecting them to pick up the pace a little bit more. And when they slowed it down, I feel like that went into our advantage a little bit because we were able to gather ourselves and run some set plays that we needed,” Fawbush said. “I definitely didn’t expect it but I’m glad they did.”