Two Class 1A girls basketball teams from Holmes County are one victory from duplicating their Final Four run, but their head coaches are cautioning against looking back when region championships are decided 7 p.m. tonight.
Holmes County, 19-9, travels to Chipley, 20-4, to decide the Region 1-1A crown and Ponce de Leon, 23-5, plays at South Walton, 22-6, in the 3-1A title game.
Having to travel is only one difference from 12 months ago when the Blue Devils and Pirates each survived a freak storm that delayed their missions in reaching Lakeland. PDL eventually turned back Holmes County in the state semifinals en route to the inaugural Rural Classification championship.
Holmes County and Chipley are squaring off for the fourth time this season, the Blue Devils winning the first two and the Tigers claiming the district title with a 62-61 decision. PDL and South Walton have not met this season, but collided in the 2012 region final won by the Pirates.
Devils coach Devon Miles said that what makes Chipley formidable is a trio of athletic guards and 6-foot-2 center Aaliyah Coleman.
“She had 18 points and 26 rebounds” in the district final, Miles said of Coleman.
He also alluded to backcourt players Rakia Sorey and Jasmine Belser, and said sophomore Amanda Pascal could be the best ballhandling guard in this region.
“That’s why I think they’re so tough,” Miles said.
Holmes County answers with point guard Mikayla Moore, the Blue Devils leading scorer at 15 points per game who has verbally committed to Northwest Florida State. Moore had five 3-pointers among 21 points in a 67-43 win at Paxton in the region semifinal. Chipley eliminated Malone 57-47 to advance.
Miles said he used 11 players in the first half at Paxton, the Blue Devils wanting to pressure the ball for 32 minutes every night. Junior Hannah Prescott is among the tallest players on the team at 5-8, and Miles said she has come on strong the past 10 games. Senior Selena Long is the second-leading scorer at 9 ppg, Cierra Davis the best one-on-one defender and Justice Taylor a key component at forward.
Chipley lost 72-69 and 89-62 to Holmes County during the regular season.
Ponce de Leon coach Tim Alford said South Walton’s imposing front line that can go 6-1, 6-0, 5-11 presents a challenge for his squad.
“They can put those three out there at one time, of course depending on the situation, and two of their guards are not real small,” Alford said.
Alford said the Seahawks are a zone team and trap in the halfcourt. They will push the ball in transition, but don’t usually extend their pressure. South Walton bounced Cottondale 65-35 in the region semifinal as Kati Trejo had 14 points and 10 rebounds and Eve Heffron 12 points.
“There will be shots out there, but second shots will be at a premium,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll try and take (Ashley) Harper away some.”
Harper and Holmes County transfer Hannah Howell are among the Pirates mainstays with Jo Carlson and Jordan Thomas also seasoned. Harper, Howell, Delilah Bass and Bit Chapman scored in double figures in the 62-20 semifinal win against Port St. Joe.
It could work to PDL’s advantage that a majority of its opponents played zone this season.
“In this particular case it does,” Alford said. “We’ll have to feel the game out and see how it goes. I hope we can stay loose and have a good time. You’re always fortunate to get into a region championship.”