By Christopher Lawlor
FORT MYERS, Fla. — For two quarters or roughly 16 minutes, New Hope Academy (Landover Hills, Md.) played out of this world. Really, the Lady Tigers might have gotten off to a slow start but bridging the second and third quarters, there was no better team on the scholastic level that could have hung with them.
The secret sauce isn’t so secret. It starts with defense. It ends with defense. And in between it’s about applying pressure that literally squeezes the life out of a team.
The top-seeded Lady Tigers defeated IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.), 80-50, Friday afternoon at the girls’ semifinals of the GEICO High School Nationals in the Suncoast Credit Union Arena on the campus of Florida SouthWest State University.
The 30-point victory was generous because it ballooned to 41 points by the middle of the fourth quarter when New Hope head coach Sam Caldwell pulled his starters. In the middle two quarters, the Lady Tigers unleashed a wrath of fury, outscoring IMG by 32 points or 45-13.
By forcing 21 turnovers, the Lady Tigers lit up the scoreboard for 32 points. They made several easy layups and added 21 second chance points. Jalyn Brown went off for 25 points, sinking 12 of 20 shots, and Laila Reynolds contributed a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
The Lady Tigers (27-2) will play second-seeded Montverde (Fla.) Academy in Saturday’s final at 10 a.m. on ESPN2.
Taniya Lawson gave the Lady Tigers their largest lead at 41 points, 78-37, with 3:18 left in the contest. Soon after the Lady Tigers substituted liberally.
Kailyn Gilbert paced the Ascender (13-5) with 20 points and Oregon-bound forward Grace VanSlooten added 11 points and nine rebounds.
Entering the fourth quarter, IMG’s offense disappeared. The Ascenders scored 16 points in the first quarter but totaled just 13 over the next two. The Lady Tigers more than doubled their opponents holding a 59-29 edge.
For IMG there would be no recovery.
New Hope came out in the third running, pressing and trapping. It was the same formula it used in the opening 16 minutes. The Lady Tigers were relentless in building an insurmountable 24-point edge at 50-26 with three minutes left.
New Hope carried a 34-20 lead into the third quarter. It was a nightmarish second for IMG, which was outscored 20-4. New Hope forced 12 turnovers with its swarming pressure and cashed in for 14 points.
Brown, who scored 15 points on 7 of 14 shooting (50%), had 11 in the second. The Louisville signee was all over the floor, leading the transition, penetrating and tallying points on the perimeter.
IMG had no answers.
Gilbert was lone bright spot for the Ascenders with 13 points and three assists while T’iana Todd added five points. The Ascenders were 8 of 24 on the floor for a frigid 33.3%.
Trailing by four in the second, New Hope used a 7-0 spurt for a 30-18 lead. Brown scored all seven, including a deep three-ball from the left corner.
With play picking up in the second, the shots weren’t falling but Brown’s transition layup off the press evened the game at 16 with 5:45 left.
In the early going, IMG jumped to leads of 7-2 and 12-8 before New Hope’s fullcourt pressure kicked in. The Lady Tigers finally took the lead 14-12 late in the first when Reynolds converted a layup off the press.
It was a portend of things to come.
IMG would score the final four points of the first and led 16-14. Gilbert scored nine points to fuel the early surge. Brown and Fauntleroy scored four apiece for the Lady Tigers. Fauntleroy went to the bench with 2:41 left with her third personal foul.