- Adam Lichtenstein Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Palm Beach Gardens’ Kiera Brown had played Wellington in district championship games twice and never lost. She wasn’t about to start losing Friday.
In the third consecutive matchup between the two District 9-9A powers in the district tournament finals, Brown scored 22 points to lead sixth-ranked Palm Beach Gardens over seventh-ranked Wellington for the third consecutive time, as the Gators edged the Wolverines 57-56 in a back-and-forth thriller at the Gators’ home gym.
“This was the toughest out of all three,” Gardens coach Charlie Reppel said. “And I know they had a lot of seniors, so they played a little harder this year. But my girls stepped up.”
The game featured wild momentum swings and came down to the final seconds.
After a closely fought first half, Wellington built a seven-point lead midway through the third quarter. It was the largest lead either team had to that point. Then the Wolverines cooled off dramatically.
Leading 43-36 in the third quarter, Wellington failed to score at the end of the third and for most of the fourth. The top-seeded Wolverines’ next basket wouldn’t come until there was only 2:15 left in the game. In the meantime, the second-seeded Gators had scored 18 consecutive points and led 54-43.
Of those 18 points, Brown scored nine; she notched a double-double Friday, adding 11 rebounds to her 22 points. Sophomore Kyandra Poitier had six points during the run. But the Wolverines still had fight in them.
Camryn Debose broke the scoring slump with a basket and a foul shot, then she added two more points. Miami Jones hit a pair of free throws to make it a two-score game, with Brown fouling out.
“We threw the ball away; we made stupid mistakes,” Reppel said. “We just panicked a little bit.”
Camryn Debose hit another three, bringing her total to 17 points, and Alaysha Iwais hit one of her own, tying the game with seconds left. But immediately after, a Wellington player fouled Poitier.
The sophomore went to the line with 4.5 seconds remaining, missed her first free throw, then nailed the second, putting Gardens up by a point.
“I just know that, no matter what, I knew my team had my back,” Poitier said. “Whether it went to overtime or I made the shot, I knew my team was right back on it.”
Wellington still had one more shot, but they failed to execute their quick play. Senior Sydney Jones’ shot at the buzzer bounced off the side of the backboard, and the Gators got to celebrate — for now. Gardens will play District 10-9A runner-up Santaluces in the regional quarterfinals on Thursday, while Wellington will face district winner Boca Raton.
“A district is great,” Brown said, “but we need to get to regions, we need to get to semis and we need to win.”
No. 1 Oxbridge Academy 68, Cardinal Newman 25: Nashani Gilbert-Taylor scored 20 points and Alexa Zaph added 19 as the top-seeded Thunderwolves routed the second-seeded Crusaders in the District 11-5A final in West Palm Beach. Grace Hundley scored 21 points, all on three-pointers, for Newman.
Benjamin 57, Fort Lauderdale-Westminster Academy 31: Da’mya Preston had 19 points and five rebounds and Anise Williams added 11 points, four rebounds and four steals as the North top-seeded Buccaneers overpowered the South top-seeded in the District 5-4A final in Palm Beach Gardens.