By REID TUCKER
There’s no other way to put it: Aucilla Christian simply had no counter for the combined onslaught of Paxton’s Alyssa Dupree and Krysten Cuchens.
Dupree, with 25 points to her credit, led the Lady Cats to a crushing 62-39 victory in the Region 1-A quarterfinals matchup on Thursday, Feb. 10, while Cuchens added a further 20 points to Paxton’s tally before time was up. The best response Aucilla could manage were 11 points apiece from Tiffany Funderburke and Sarah Sorensen.
Though the Warriors (14-13) hanged tough for the duration of the contest, Paxton (25-2) nevertheless rolled on the victory, wrapping up a loss-less home record for the season. What’s more, the Lady Cats simultaneously earned a state semi-finals rematch Tuesday against Tallahassee’s Florida A&M High.
Paxton coach Steve Williams said the team has waited a year to face off against the Baby Rattlers, as they put Paxton out of the running for a state title in last season’s match-up.
“That’s what we hoped for,” Williams said. “We knew that if we’re going to have a chance to go anywhere we’re going to have got to go through them. We’ve tried to go one game at a time but in the back of our mind we’ve known [FAMU] is where we wanted to go. Now we get our opportunity.”
The first quarter saw Cuchens score on a 3 and 2, while Dupree put up a trio of 2-pointers to put Paxton into an easy 13-6 lead. The Lady Cats had a 10-point lead on their hands at the half, as they outpointed the Warriors 24-14 through the first two periods. Despite Paxton’s claiming a solid lead, it was the defense that took top accolades in the early game, as the Lady Cats forced 15 turnovers on Aucilla Christian by halftime.
Funderburke and Kaitlin Jackson each scored four points for the Warriors in the third quarter, but the rest of the team fell silent save a late 3 from Anna Finloyson. Paxton had its best quarter yet, scoring 18 points on the backs of Cuchens, Dupree and L.A. Anderson, who opened up with back-to-back 3-pointers after falling silent since scoring from the floor in the first period.
Aucilla Christian put up a few unanswered 2-pointers to start off the fourth quarter but the embattled Warriors were still down 54-35 with just more than six minutes to go. Funderburke added a field goal to bring her team closer than 20 points for the first time since the start of the period but Paxton quickly got back on top as Cuchens drained four of five free throws as well as a 2 and 3. Dupree scored another eight points (making it 20 points in the quarter) to finish up Paxton’s scoring for the game, propelling Paxton to the next round of the state tournament.
Minus the reliable outside shooting of junior Rebecca Ferreira, Paxton will have to make sure not to allow FAMU freshman post player Lakaris Salter many opportunities to score, Williams said. Salter leads FAMU in scoring, averaging 17-20 points per game and she is very dangerous from the perimeter. What’s more, she has the backup of a team that, while young, towers over the majority of the Lady Cats roster.
It will be a battle, but Williams likes Paxton’s chances because 11 of his 15 players are either juniors or seniors and have critical big-game experience. He said the key to coming away with a finals berth will be unrelenting pressure from the defense.
“Anybody can play ‘horse,’” he said. “We can’t give up second and third shots because we’re going to be facing a bigger, taller, more athletic team that can jump. Defensively I think we can do some things though. We don’t have an answer for their height, but they don’t have an answer for our experience.”