Dunbar’s Alicia Johnson, right, along with other Lady Tigers react after losing to Lake Highland Prep during the Class 4A state championship game at the Lakeland Center.
LAKELAND – For the last two years, Jacksonville Ribault has been the source of Dunbar’s pain. Now, that title belongs to Orlando Lake Highland Prep’s Destinee Walker.
The senior North Carolina signee, who finished with 34 points, buried an uncontested 3-pointer with 11 seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime. From there, Lake Highland shot 9-for-12 from the free-throw line down the stretch of a 68-62 win over Dunbar in the Class 4A final.
“One play away, just one play away. That’s all it was,” Dunbar coach Dwayne Donnell said.
It marked the second year in a row the Tigers have lost in the game. And it signaled the last game for a senior class which won a state title in 2012, but came up just short of a second ring the last three years.
“It hurts,” senior guard Kiara Desmours said. “We did all we could to get back here. But that was a great team and (Walker) is a great player.”
“You can’t look at the negatives. You have to look at all the positives — the regional titles, the state title. That’s how you deal with it,” said senior point guard Keri Jewett, who led the Tigers with 22 points.
But each of them will look back to one play.
With the game tied at 49 with under three minutes to play, Ja’Miah Bland scored in the paint with a Highlander draped all over her. Jewett followed with a steal and two free throws to make it 53-49.
Walker answered with a 3 off the dribble.
After two missed free throws, Desamours swiped a rebound from a Highlander and scored with 1:15 left.
Walker got an uncontested layup to cut the deficit to one with 28 seconds to play and Jewett made both free throws.
Out of a timeout, Walker was inexplicably left all alone to drain a 3 to tie it at 57. Jewett was blocked at the buzzer to send the game to OT.
“It was a miscommunication,” Desmours said. “We were supposed to switch on the screens. I have no idea how we managed to leave their best player all alone with the game on the line.”
Dunbar trailed for most of the extra period. Bland, who had 19 points, hit two free throws to cut it to 61-60 with 51 seconds left and Dekeriya Patterson went coast to coast for a quick layup 20 seconds later to make it a one-point game again.
The difference was the Highlanders’ performance from the free-throw line and the Tigers’ struggles. In OT, Jordan Lewis shot 9-for-12 from the stripe while Dunbar had to go the whole game to match that total on 24 attempts.
During the first half, Dunbar weathered a storm of Walker jumpers off the dribble. Walker finished the half with 20 points on 8-for-14 shooting, including four 3s to bring the Highlanders back from a nine-point deficit.
Jewett buried a 3 and Bland followed with a putback to put the Tigers up 27-18 with 5:10 left in the second quarter. Walker answered with a pair of treys and fastbreak layup with five seconds left to cut it to 31-30.