LAKELAND — Chipley’s final push for a state championship was timed two minutes too soon.
The Tigers rallied to take the lead late in the fourth quarter, but Paxton regained control in the final minute to beat Chipley 39-34 in the Class 1A girls basketball state championship at The Lakeland Center on Wednesday.
Chipley collected its second consecutive runner-up finish at state and finished the year 25-6. Paxton earned the fifth state championship in program history with the victory and ended the season 26-3.
The Tigers led 25-20 early in the third quarter before turnovers allowed Paxton to unleash a 10-0 run to take a 30-25 lead into the fourth quarter. The Bobcats, who forced 33 turnovers a day earlier against Chiefland in the semifinals, scored four buckets off of Chipley turnovers in the third quarter.
“I wasn’t concerned,” Chipley coach Kimberly Tuel said. “I thought we’d get back on track.”
Bethany Neale gave Paxton a 32-27 lead with a basket with 5:49 left in the game. Chipley held the Bobcats without a point over the next five minutes, however, and reeled off seven straight points to seize a 34-32 lead with Alivia Thomas’ free throw with 2:42 remaining.
That amounted to Chipley’s last point of the game.
Emily Murray, who led all scorers with 20 points, buried a 3-pointer with 39 seconds left to put Paxton back on top 35-34. Murray made four free throws in the final 11 seconds to seal the Bobcats’ win.
“She took over the game today like she took over the game yesterday,” Tuel said of Murray.
Amanda Paschal powered Chipley with 16 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, and it was her three-point play with 3½ minutes left that gave the Tigers their first lead of the fourth quarter at 33-32.
The two teams traded the lead four times in the opening quarter before finishing the first eight minutes deadlocked at 11-11. Paschal converted a three-point play and knocked down a 3-pointer in the second quarter, and the Tigers carried a 21-18 lead into the locker room at halftime.