For the past three games, the Rockledge High girls basketball team had overcome the odds to defeat three recent state tournament teams, mostly on the road.
On Friday, the challenge became “too much big.”
Choctawhatchee defeated the Raiders in a Class 5A semifinal at the Lakeland Center, 44-34.
Rockledge had beaten Bishop Moore and Titusville while playing on the road as a district runner-up and then beat four-time defending champion Dillard at home on Saturday to earn a state tournament spot.
“The last few games, we played extremely hard, and today we came up extremely short,” Raiders coach Reuben Williams said.
The problem was too much big from multiple angles, and the first was the stage. Both teams played sloppy first-quarter basketball with a spot in the championship game on the line, but the Indians were able to eventually settle down and transition to a sharp focus, having been the Class 6A state runner-up playing on the same floor just a year earlier.
Rockledge’s Loshaveon Jones scored the first two baskets — including the only one in the first period — for the Raiders and finished with a team-high 17 points with nine rebounds. Yet, even the senior said the state tournament generated nerves from the time she stepped onto the court.
“It was just being here. It was a little overwhelming,” she said. “When I stepped out on the court, it was an eye-opener.”
Like the stage itself, the arena was big. Players from both teams noted having to make a shooting adjustment, and they started a combined 3-for-30 from the field, but when the Indians shook their nerves, they were the more accurate team.
Contributing mightily to that was another “big” that got in the way of Rockledge: the Indians themselves, with four players 6-feet tall or taller. Leading the way was 6-3 center Nadia Fingall, a 10th-grader playing in her first state semifinal. Senior Shavonna Spaw, at 6-1, added nine points.
“We might have seen one, two (taller opponents) maybe, but it seemed like they had four or five that were 6 (feet) and up,” Jones said.
Though she hit one 3-point shot that ended a 5-0 Rockledge spurt midway through the second quarter, Fingall did almost all her scoring from under the basket. She led everybody with 23 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocks.
“Our plan was to keep them from getting the ball in the middle to (Fingall) and watching (Brittany Washington), because I think she’s knocked down some 3s during the season,” Williams said.
Rockledge blanketed Washington. Though she scored nine points, four came from the foul line. She made just one 3. Meanwhile, the Raiders denied Fingall the ball for about a quarter, but that didn’t last.
“She did pretty dadgum well to come here and play this well for a first time,” Indians coach Don Brown said. “I really, really wanted to get to the basket as much as possible. It’s very hard to shoot the ball here. I thought our kids did a really good job of that.”
Even when the Raiders made athletic plays, stepping into the passing lane to bat a ball or even blocking a shot by the taller Indians — Jones blocked five — Rockledge could not capitalize.
“They recovered quickly,” Tajanee Chapple said. “They were big. I don’t think they were fast, but they were stopping our fast break. If we had just run the fast break more, I think we would have had more layups.”
Rockledge drew within seven in the final minutes but was never within striking distance.
The Raiders finished 19-8. Choctawhatchee (28-3) and moved on to today’s 5A title game against Bradenton Southeast, a 49-24 winner over Land O’Lakes.