By Christopher Lawlor
FORT MYERS, Fla. – The Lady Eagles of Montverde (Fla.) Academy completed the sweet repeat on Saturday morning.
They needed a ginormous rally in the second half, notably in the fourth quarter, to win a second consecutive GEICO High School Nationals championship.
The Lady Eagles waited all season for a chance to win it all and over seven weeks since they last played in February but it was worth the wait.
Say it again: Montverde Academy Lady Eagles are GEICO Nationals champions!
Montverde concluded the championship season at 26-1.
Montverde used a 19-6 run to close out the game to defeat second-seeded Long Island Lutheran (Brookville, N.Y.), 60-54, inside the Suncoast Credit Union Arena on the campus of Florida SouthWestern State University.
Sahnya Jah scored 15 of her game-high 20 points in the second half to spark the comeback. The Lady Eagles were down 16 points (36-20) with three minutes left in the third quarter before launching the rally for the ages.
Over the last 11 minutes they outscored the Lady Crusaders, 40-18. Montverde connected on 8 of 12 shot in the fourth quarter and 2 of 2 from three-point land.
Following a sluggish first half, the Lady Eagles turned on the jets and left LuHi in the jet wash. Montverde attacked from all angles. Cori Allen and Rusne Augustinaite (nine points) were the perimeter sharpshooters and Jah muscled her way to the rim with an assortment of take-no-prisoners moves.
In the final minute, LuHi trailed 57-54 and had three opportunities to tie it. They even had a shot at slicing the deficit to a single point but the rim was pitiless. Jah cemented the win, rebounding a missed free throw by teammate Vivian Iwuchukwu, scoring and completing the traditional three-point play with a free throw to close out the scoring for both sides.
South Carolina-bound Jah was the Most Valuable Player. Allen, who signed with Illinois, scored 15 points and collected 11 rebounds for her double-double.
LuHi’s Kayleigh Heckel topped LuHi with 17 points, Savannah Swords added 12 and Syla Swords had eight points and nine rebounds. The Lady Crusaders went 2 of 16 from the floor in the fourth and misfired on all six three-point shots.
For the first time in the game, Montverde surged ahead when Allen attacked the rim with a hard drive and it was 52-50 at 4:38. LuHi tied it on the next possession but Allen’s 3-pointer gave the Lady Eagles a 55-52 lead with 3:42 left.
The closest the Lady Eagles were six points when Jah scored down low off a spin move to make it 44-38 at 1:45. However, the Lady Crusaders countered and led 48-41 after three quarters. Montverde won the quarter 21-14.
For the first time since the first quarter, Montverde had the deficit sliced to single digits at 39-30 as Sheppard hit two free throws. At 3:54 The Lady Eagles turned up the pressure and it led to points.
LuHi led 34-20 at the intermission and was supported by 14 of 27 shooting (51.9%) and Heckel’s 10 points. Savannah Swords added nine.
The Lady Eagles were frigid from the floor, hitting on only 6 of 25 shots for 24%. Jah scored five points in the opening half.
Less than two minutes into the second, Lauryn Swann’s steal and layup at midcourt doubled the lead at 28-14.
The Lady Crusaders came out shooting from the perimeter and led 21-12. They hit on 5 of 6 3-pointers as Heckel went 2 of 3 for eight points and Syla Swords added seven. LuHi shot 8 of 13 in the opening stanza.
Montverde was only 3 of 11 from the floor.
All-Tournament team: Sahnya Jah (MVP) and Cori Allen, Montverde; Ava McKennie, McDonogh School (Owings Mills, Md.); Jordyn Palmer, Westtown School (West Chester, Pa.); and Kate Kowal, Long Island Lutheran.