These past few weeks have been big for Florida High in believing in discovering its full potential.
A loss to Miami right before the New Year woke up the Seminoles and showed that they can't rely on its star guard, senior Tonie Morgan to do it all. A down to the wire win against Rickards saw the trust build and the ball move more.
The Seminoles have made a lot of progress these past few weeks, but Friday night they took a major step forward that made them not just believe in each other, but furthermore into the common goal of winning a state championship.
Wekiva rolled into town, with only one loss on the year. It was ranked No. 2 in 6A, No. 3 in the overall standings, and had defeated that Miami team that beat Florida High by 22. It was the biggest challenge of the season and was going to test the Seminoles championship standard.
The belief and discipline in Florida High remained constant through all four quarters, not just giving the Seminoles the win, but a dominant 10 point victory over one of the top team's in the state, 55-45.
"It's a great team victory," Seminoles head coach Darryl Marshall said. "Against Rickards, it was about trust and that's what we showed tonight. It was learning about overcoming obstacles and finishing in the game. We saw that from all nine that stepped on the floor."
Never losing faith
Morgan has been a core piece as to what Florida High has been able to do all season. She averaged 20 points per game and knocked down 22 Friday night. She is still a central scoring figure but is starting to the points spread between her teammates.
Early on in the game, Morgan's presence in the game was put into question as she'd commit two fouls early in the first quarter. While Morgan still played the game buzzer to buzzer, Marshall said that her early fouls did push the ball movement effort a little more early on.
"Last year when she [Morgan] went out with the injury, we didn't know how to play without her," Marshall said. "Now we're comfortable in a position playing if we have to bring her out, but everybody's sense of urgency went up when that second foul came. It's a trust factor from all angles. Everyone stepping up and she staying out of foul trouble, just shows the mental toughness of this team."
The Mustangs brought an aggressive approach to the court, and Morgan was not going to back off, but with some early fouling, she found a balance between keeping a distance and attacking the net.
"They were a challenge to play against," Morgan said. "They played good defense and a lot of press in traffic, but we came together and all nine people that stepped on the floor showed up to play. That's what we all ask for our teammates."
While Morgan was constantly attacking the net, senior Audia Young, another key piece to this Seminoles squad, was closing out from outside the arc. She finished with 15 points, draining three 3-pointers.
"My penetrate and kick was helping me tonight, because they were playing zone defense on us," Young said. "It was just about getting everybody open and getting everyone involved. Passing and stacking the defense allowed me to get open shots."
Morgan and Young have been the two-one punch for the Seminoles throughout the season, but Friday night saw the effort expand. Junior guard Laniyah Gennie had 10 points, draining two 3's. Senior guard Makayla Colville and sophomore guard Micah Evora both had a make each from deep.
Even on the defensive end, junior center Chrishawndria Faust disrupted any sort of movement Wekiva tried to make under. the net. It was the collective effort that the Seminoles have been itching for all year and the one they needed to defeat a team like this.
"From the start of the season to now we've definitely learned how to move the ball more and trust our teammates more, but hey, if they can knock down shots, we're going to get them the ball," Morgan said.
"We've definitely had to trust each other more, but we've all contributed and learned each other," Young said. "Now we're executing well."
There's significance to ever win, but Friday's victory proved a lot for the Seminoles. They knocked off a team, by a sizable margin, that was ranked 16 seeds above them.
One of the reasons the Seminoles wanted to bring Wekiva to Tallahassee is to see how they'd match up against a "championship team". Since 2019, Wekiva has been in the 6A championship game, winning the state title 2019. Marshall, Morgan, and Young all said this team pushed them in a way they haven't experienced before this season.
"This team challenged us mentally and as a championship team," Marshall said. "They're a championship team and extremely well-coached. They're never going to be out of the game. You have to beat teams like these to win championships. This game right here prepared us mentally to say, we can win a championship if we play together."
Florida High went up big in this game in the second quarter, but Wekiva pushed back in the third quarter to pull within as many as five points of the lead. It got chippy, but the Seminoles didn't lose their composure.
"Discipline and focus helped us win," Young said. "We all knew our assignments and we executed."
The Seminoles have had confidence in themselves all season, but Friday's win boosted the team's belief that they can go all the way and win against championship-caliber teams. There still is a long way to go if Florida High makes it to Lakeland and it knows it needs to maintain this type of performance to get there.
There's a long way to go, but Friday's win showed signs of postseason potential.
"A win like this motivates you and makes you think how much more can we really do," Young said. "We can get all the way there."
"This win gave us the courage that we can make it to state and win," Morgan said. "We knew it from the jump, but now we know we can really do it, and show it every game."
"It feels great to pick up a win like this," Marshall said. "After a long season of games, counseling, and practices, I'm happy, man. This is the first time I can smile going home."
Jack Williams covers prep sports for Tallahassee Democrat. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @jackgwilliams.
Florida High 65, Wekiva 55
Florida High (13-3): 14, 15, 17, 9 - 65
Wekiva (17-2): 9, 9, 21, 6 - 55
Florida High: Morgan 4 8-10 22, Young 3 0-0 15. Gennie 2 0-0 10, Evora 0 0-0 3, Colville 0 0-0 3, Faust 1 0-0 2. Totals 10 8-10 65.
Wekiva: Eads 5 2-3 21, Moffitt 7 0-0 14, McCarthy 2 2-3 6, Gordon 0 2-2 2, Lewis 0 1-2 1, Holliday 0 1-2 1. Totals 14 8-12 55.
3-pointers: Florida High 9 (Young 3, Morgan 2, Gennie 2, Evora 1, Colville 1). Wekiva 3 (Eads 3).
Fouls: Florida High 16. Wekiva 16.
This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Florida High posts 10 points victory over state power Wekiva