The Winter Haven girls varsity basketball team is within two victories of the program’s sixth Florida High School Athletic Association state championship.
The Blue Devils defeated visiting Tampa Bay Tech, 60-58, in the Class 6A-Region 2 Final on Feb. 21. In doing so, the team earned a trip to the RP Funding Center in Lakeland, where Pompano Beach’s Blanche Ely awaits in the state semifinals.
What to know
* Winter Haven has reached the state semifinals for the fifth time in six seasons. The Blue Devils fell to Pensacola Pine Forest in the 2015 semis (Class 6A) before winning consecutive state titles in 2016 (Class 7A), 2017 (Class 8A) and 2018 (Class 8A). Last season, Winter Haven was eliminated in the Class 8A regional semifinals by Tampa Plant.
* Because the field is reconfigured in the state semifinals this season, Winter Haven is a No. 4 seed, based on its MaxPreps power rating prior to the regional tournament. The Blue Devils (16.506) will face top-seeded Blanche Ely (21.263) at approximately 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, while the first Class 6A semifinal matches No. 2 seed Wekiva (17.999) and No. 3 seed Braden River (17.632) at 6 p.m. The Class 6A state championship game is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Saturday (Feb. 29).
* Head coach Johnnie Lawson’s Blue Devils advanced through the Region 2 bracket with the help of a 70-51 semifinal win over visiting Strawberry Crest on Feb. 18. Winter Haven converted 25 of 32 free throws as Trinity Hardy (21 points) and Kayla Smith (15 points) combined to go 10-for-10 at the line and Jazmine Spencer (19 points) finished 8-for-10.
* The Blue Devils held off Tampa Bay Tech – the 2019 Class 8A state champion – down the stretch after leading by as many as 15 points late in the third quarter. Shelby Ricks sank two foul shots with 24 seconds remaining to give Winter Haven a 59-55 lead, while Hardy finished with a game-high 23 points.
* Winter Haven (22-8) has put together a 10-game winning streak since back-to-back losses to Class 3A state semifinalist Carrollwood Day School (at the LeDawn Gibson Invitational) and Class 5A state semifinalist Plantation American Heritage (at the MLK Super Showcase in Miami). The Blue Devils scored 60 or more points in seven of their last 10 contests.
* Blanche Ely emerged as the Class 6A-Region 4 champion following last Friday’s 53-40 victory over Fort Lauderdale Dillard. The Tigers (26-6) are on a 16-game winning streak, after they dropped a one-point decision to IMG Academy on Jan. 4 at the She Got Game Classic in Georgia.
* Region 1 champion Wekiva enters the state semifinals with a 23-7 record and a nine-game winning streak. Braden River, the Region 3 winner, has won five straight games and is 17-9 overall.