Boca Raton to play for state girls basketball championship

Unlike most of her teammates, Grace Alfieri has never played in a state semifinal. She was in middle school when Boca Raton made the state’s Final Four the past two seasons.

“I definitely had some nerves,” Alfieri said of Friday’s game. “But the seniors and the junior, Hannah (Pratt), definitely calmed me down.”

The freshman guard may have been nervous, but she didn’t show it, scoring 13 points and hitting all three of her 3-point attempts in Boca Raton’s 58-45 win over Orlando-Olympia in the Class 9A state semifinals at the Lakeland Center.

“The players stepped it up,” coach Nhu Nguyen said. “That’s what makes a good team a good team. When your star player is in foul trouble, other players are struggling … other players step up.”

The Bobcats appeared to have the game under control from the opening tip. Playing a quick, pressing defense, they forced the Titans into several turnovers, stealing the ball 20 times.

Olympia forced its way back into the game, narrowing Boca Raton’s lead to two in the second quarter. But the Bobcats’ offense warmed back up, and the defense went back to stifling the Titans.

“They had the right gameplan against us,” Olympia coach Robert Carmody said. “They hurried us up.”

Carmody cited Pratt, the 6-foot-1 forward, as Boca Raton’s most difficult defender. Pratt finished the game with a double-double, scoring 12 points and racking up 13 rebounds.

“They’re a fast team, so we had to keep up with them,” Pratt said.

Boca Raton faces Miami-Ferguson at 3 p.m. Saturday with the Class 9A state title on the line. Ferguson dominated its semifinal, beating Apopka-Wekiva 52-33 Friday after leading 30-7 at halftime.

“I (have) a lot of respect for Ferguson,” Nguyen said. “Great coach, great team, quick, can handle the ball well. So we’re going to change our game plan a little bit. Hopefully, we can slow them down.”

Senior Rachel Levy, who led Boca Raton with 16 points, Pratt and senior guard Grace Marko are the core Bobcats who have been with the team for all three trips to the state Final Four. In 2015, Boca Raton lost in the state semifinals, and last year the Bobcats lost to Vero Beach in double overtime in the championship game.

“I told them before the game … this is my third time,” Levy said. “It’s not really the feeling of loss or feeling like we did horrible that I remember. It’s the experience that I remember… and how excited I was to be here.

“So to be back and have that chance to get that feeling back is awesome.”

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