Fort Myers punished opponents all season with its full-court zone press, generating much of its scoring off turnovers. It took a huge defensive adjustment on the state’s biggest stage to end a three-decade-long drought.
Fort Myers coach Chad Terrell abandoned the full-court press in favor of a half-court trap and held Fort Walton Beach Choctawhatchee to just six points in the fourth quarter of a 62-51 victory in a Class 6A semifinal Friday at the Lakeland Center, punching the program’s first ticket to a state final in 32 years.
The Green Wave (26-5), which got 21 points from Autumn Giles, will take on Oakland Park Northeast at 1:35 p.m. today with a state championship on the line. Northeast (20-7) knocked off Orlando Edgewater 43-37 in the other semifinal.
Sophomore guard Destanni Henderson, who finished with 16 points, five assists and eight steals, and her teammates waited a year for another opportunity in Lakeland after losing to Palm Beach Lakes in a semifinal.
“We basically are trying to finish what we started,” Henderson said.
In order to do so, the Green Wave had to prove they weren’t a one-trick pony.
The Indians navigated their way through the full-court zone press to open the game.
The Green Wave, which gave up 35 points per game going into the semifinal, surrendered 28 in the first 16 minutes. Choctawhatchee’s Nadia Fingall, a Stanford signee, was too much to handle in the paint through three quarters, scoring 21 points and grabbing 15 rebounds, but Fort Myers kept the ball out of her hands most of the final eight minutes.
“They did a good job of getting the ball inbounds, passing the ball through our zone press,” Terrell said. “We had to just back up a little bit and get our traps in the half court.”
Trailing 35-26 with 5:30 left in the third following an Ataliya Brown 3-pointer, Fort Myers again tightened up, trapping the Indians and jumping on the first pass out of the trap.
“I just told them we have to keep fighting,” Terrell said. “Half the problems were self-inflicted wounds. We’re turning the ball over, we’re very flat on offense, we weren’t moving the ball, we’re letting them rest on defense.”
The Green Wave cut the lead to one with a 9-1 run following a Bethany Brunson putback. A Henderson drive down the middle of the lane gave her team its first lead of the game at 48-47 with 5:33 to play.
Henderson turned the momentum with four steals when Choctawhatchee players passed the ball from the baseline back to the 3-point arc.
“I just anticipated and stayed on my feet and saw where they were looking to go with the ball,” Henderson said.
“She can do so much,” Terrell said. “If she’s not getting it on offense, she’s going to get it defensively.”
Fort Myers closed the game with an 11-2 flurry, starting with two Henderson steals that ended in transition points.