By Christopher Lawlor
FORT MYERS, Fla. – Cori Allen showed why she’s considered one of the clutch players from the Class of 2023.
With the game still in the balance and Westtown (West Chester, Pa.) just waiting to pounce, the senior guard who is headed to Illinois in the fall, took the game into her hands.
After a quick crossover, head fake and fadeaway jumper that swished, Allen completed the three-point play that eventually propelled top-seeded Montverde (Fla.) Academy over the Moose, 58-51, Friday in the semifinals of the GEICO High School Nationals inside the Suncoast Credit Union Arena on the campus of Florida SouthWestern State University.
The Lady Eagles earned the right to defend their GEICO Nationals championship on Saturday morning at 10 a.m. EDT on ESPN2.
With Montverde clinging to a precarious six-point lead in the final two minutes, Allen pumped in the jumper that lifted the Lady Eagles past a young, plucky team from the Philadelphia suburbs.
Allen was money today, with a game-high 16 points (6 of 8 shooting, 3 of 5 on 3-pointers) and six rebounds. Sahnya Jah, a South Carolina recruit, scored 14 after going 10 of 12 from the foul line and Mjracle Sheppard added 13 points and seven assists.
The Moose had four in double-digit scoring: Jordyn Palmer 16, Grace Sundback 15 and both Jessie Moses and Savannah Curry with 10 apiece.
The game wasn’t decided until the final period.
Moses continued her instant offense in opening 1:40 of the fourth drilling her third 3-pointer and cut the lead to four at 50-46. The deficit was two before the Lady Eagles went up 55-49. The Moose’s shooting touch cooled as they went scoreless for four minutes.
The Moose made a game of it late in the third quarter but still trailed by seven points, 47-40. For a while it appeared the Lady Eagles were looking for a blowout win but that stalled. The Lady Eagles were up 13 early in the third when the Moose closed within five (45-40) on a Moses trey at 1:05.
Allen’s 3-pointer midway through the third provided restored a double-digit lead for the Lady Eagles at 41-31. Another Moses jumper at 5:01 had cut into the deficit at 38-31 but Montverde attacked in the perimeter.
The Lady Eagles finished out the first half with an 11-2 spurt after the game was tied at 21 with just under three minutes to go. They carried a 32-23 edge into the third.
“They just went on a late run in the first half and kept it going in the third quarter. That’s when I called timeout and challenged the girls. ‘Do you want to go home or want to make a game of it,’’’ Westtown coach Fran Burbidge said. “We cut it to two points in the fourth quarter and I thought we had a chance. But they [Montverde] are a national team and I thought it was a great opportunity for our team. We had a great experience here.”
In the first half, Jah (10 points), Sheppard (nine) and Allen (eight) accounted for 27 of the 32 points for the Lady Eagles. Sundback dropped 11 and a trio of 3-pointers and Curry had six for the Moose.
The Lady Eagles’ reputation of quickening the pace proved true as they were up 10-0 in fastbreak points and made 6 of 10 shots in the second to create the nine-point cushion by the break. The Moose camped out on the perimeter, making 5 of 15 shots from the arc for 33.3%.
Georgia Tech-bound Rusne Augustinaite canned a 3-pointer from deep in the left corner and the Lady Eagles had rattled off seven unanswered points in the final two minutes of the second.
When Sundback drilled a long, 3-pointer from the top of the zone, the Moose were up 21-17 or the largest lead until that point. Seconds later Sheppard reduced the deficit to two points with a midcourt steal and driving layup.
“It was a physical game,” said Sundback a Staten Island (N.Y.) native and Delaware signee. “We knew that we could play with them.”
The game was knotted at 12 through one quarter. Neither could breakaway so the margins were only one or two points. Sheppard and Allen scored five apiece for the Eagles while the Moose were paced by Curry and Sundback with six apiece.