All Miami Christian needed was eight minutes to settle down in the Class 2A semifinals and then the Victors were off to their first ever appearance in a girls’ basketball state title game.
Miami Christian scored the first 22 points of the second quarter to erase a sloppy first quarter and run away from Kissimmee City of Life Christian Academy for a 71-34 win in the 2A semifinals Wednesday in Lakeland. The win sends the Victors into the title game two years after they fell short in their first trip to the state semifinals.
“First-time jitters for the whole team,” coach Chanel Davila said. “They were just trying to kind of soak it all in, and then they kind of got it together and they woke up.”
Miami Christian’s 22-0 run swallowed nearly the entire second quarter and the Victors (16-7) ultimately outscored City of Life Christian Academy, 29-1, in the period to blow away the 2018 state champion. Miami Christian held City of Life Christian (14-7) to 0 of 7 from the field and forced nine turnovers in the second to turn an 18-16 deficit at the end of the quarter into a commanding 45-19 halftime lead on the way to a blowout win.
The Victors will return to the RP Funding Center on Saturday to face Tallahassee Florida A&M in the 2A championship. Miami Christian is searching for its first state title, while Florida A&M is aiming for its seventh to move into a tie with Laurel Hill for third most in Florida High School Athletic Association history.
“Hopefully we can bring it home and make history,” Davila said.
The second quarter was clinical for the Victors, using their speed to overwhelm the Warriors. The nine turnovers they forced turned into transition opportunities, and Miami Christian went 9 of 14 from the field and 11 of 13 from the free-throw line as part of the 29-point eruption. Seven of the Victors’ nine field goals were assisted.
“I think everybody woke up,” forward Daimelys Morera said. “They realized that we need to start playing.”
Those first eight minutes, though, were gruesome. Miami Christian committed nine fouls and 10 turnovers in the opening period, and City of Life Christian rattled in a three-pointer as the buzzer sounded to take an 18-16 lead. Gabriela Bendeck, the only remaining member of the Victors’ 2019 team, took responsibility to settle down Miami Christian.
She remembered how it felt two years ago, when the Victors fell in the 2A semifinals and she went back to Miami vowing to eventually bring Miami Christian to a championship game.
In 2020, she and the Victors fell short in the Region 4-Class 2A championship with Davila in her first year at the helm, then the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted preparations for this season. They kept working — meeting via Zoom and practicing at parks when they weren’t allowed inside their gymnasium at Miami Christian School — and knew this season, Bendeck’s final one, would be a chance to finally reach the summit.
Bendeck, who was a first-team all-county selection by the Miami Herald last year, delivered. The point guard scored or assisted on the first 10 points of the second quarter and the rout was on. Bendeck finished with 20 points, nine rebounds and seven assists despite sitting out nearly the entire fourth quarter. Fellow point guard Ambar Ramirez added 15 points on 5 of 5 shooting — including 4 of 4 from three-point range — and Morera chipped in 11. After giving up 18 points in the first quarter, the Victors only gave up 16 the rest of the way.
Close calls have plagued Miami Christian throughout its history — recent or otherwise. Before they reached the final four for the first time in 2019, the Victors had been 0-6 in sectionals or region championships.
Bendeck has now twice helped get Miami Christian closer than ever. This weekend, she can wash away all the memories from 2019.
“I remember the next day we got to Miami, I was ready to work because next time I’m here, I’m not going to do that,” she said. “A lot’s changed.”