Written by Brady Aymond of pnj.com
FORT WALTON BEACH — Midway through the fourth quarter, Choctawhatchee senior guard Brittany Brown looked up at the scoreboard and saw her career coming to an end.
So she did something about it.
The Florida State signee scored 20 of her game-high 37 points in the fourth quarter, including the game-winning basket with 2.0 seconds left, to lift the unbeaten Indians to a 61-60 win over the Pine Forest Eagles on Tuesday in the Region 1-6A semifinals.
With the visiting Eagles leading 60-59 on the strength of a free throw by Jayla King with 8.1 seconds left in regulation, Choctaw’s Shavonna Spaw inbounded the ball straight to Brown. From there, she drove the length of the floor and put up a running jumper that hit nothing but net.
And that was the end. The buzzer sounded before Pine Forest (24-3) could get the ball inbounds.
“My teammates were telling me I had to keep my head and we had to stick together,” said Brown, who connected on 6-of-15 shots from the 3-point line. “Lauren (Day) told me I had to take over, because I was the only one starting to get a rhythm.
“When that senior year hits you, and you start thinking, you don’t want to stop playing. All my AAU coaches and my dad tell me that I need to focus on my mid-range jumper because if I take it in, I normally don’t get the call. This year, I’ve been trying to focus on the mid-range, but they said it was like a layup by the time I shot it.”
Pine Forest was up by as many as 14 points in the first half, and led by 13 points going into the fourth quarter. Neither time, though, were the Eagles able to close out the Indians (30-0).
“We had mental breakdowns, and to me that gave them their momentum to get back into the game,” Pine Forest coach Chris Godwin said. “But I’m proud of this team. We went 24-3 and I had three sophomores starting.
“I think Jayla (King) played her butt off tonight. I’m proud of them. I thought we executed the game plan. Like I said, it’s different when you’re playing at home. (Brown) is comfortable here. They got it in her hands, which is their go-to, and they executed.”
King scored a team-high 27 points and added nine rebounds to lead the Eagles. But that effort was largely overshadowed by Brown’s fourth-quarter heroics.
Pine Forest led 49-36 when Brown took over and began her scoring onslaught. It began innocently enough with a short jumper to cut the gap to 49-38. It turned up a notch a few seconds later when Brown went coast-to-coast on a missed jumper by Tia Sanders to knock home a layup and draw the foul.
Brown finished the three-point play to get it down to single digits. Brown buried three 3-pointers in the period, and was fouled on a fourth 3-point attempt, in which she made two of three free throws.
She saved her best for last, though, taking the inbounds pass with 8.1 seconds left and driving the length of the floor to hit the game-winner.
“At first, I was going down thinking I would draw a foul and go to the free throw line,” Brown said. “But I wasn’t 100 percent that I would make my free throws, and I was right there and knew that mid-range was going to go in.”
Choctaw will now travel to play St. Augustine in the Region 1-6A finals on Saturday.
Pine Forest ends its season at Choctaw for the second straight year, in another gut-wrenching defeat. Last year, the Indians outlasted the Eagles, 76-73, in double-overtime of the regional quarterfinals.
“I think there (was frustration in the fourth quarter) with the flow of the game,” Godwin said. “Things were falling in for them.
“It was there for us. I really believe that.”
Pine Forest 60
Pine Forest…18 12 19 11— 60
Choctaw…10 16 10 25— 61
Pine Forest (24-3) — Jasmine McCants 6, Ty Purifoy 7, Njeri Nelms 3, Tia Sanders 9, Jayla King 25, Britney Snowden 10.
Choctaw (29-0) — Brittany Brown 37, Lauren Day 12, Caneisaya Matthews 5, Brittany Washington 7