Just before she took the floor for the 10:30 a.m. tip-off Friday in the National High School Invitational semifinal at Georgetown Prep, Spalding senior guard Torri Chestnut stretched her arms in a way that seemed more an act of lingering sleepiness than preparation.
Thirteen seconds later, drowsy or not, Chestnut got the roll on a jump shot for Spalding’s first basket, and she and the Cavaliers were on their way to a 60-51 win over Dillard (Fla.).
“We’re not really used to early morning games,” said Chestnut, who celebrated her 18th birthday on Friday. “Today we needed to get [off] to an early start so we wouldn’t slack off.”
Spalding never trailed, so the game might indeed have induced a yawn or two from ESPNU viewers until the Panthers sliced a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit to four points with three minutes to play.
Spalding (30-2) will face Dr. Phillips (Fla.) in the NHSI final at 11 a.m. Saturday. Dr. Phillips beat Life Center Academy (N.J.), 65-58, in the other semifinal Friday.
Spalding prevailed in its first game since March 9 despite committing 31 turnovers and making only 14 of 28 foul shots. Just as the Cavaliers had many times previously in this extended season, they won with balance (five players scored between eight and 11 points, and eight Cavs scored in the first half), rebounding (a 44-32 edge) and team defense (Dillard shot 31.6 from the floor and committed 26 turnovers that helped spur the Cavs’ 23-for-48 shooting).
“Just as good as they played on defense, we did the same thing,” Spalding Coach Bookie Rosemond said. “Thirty-one turnovers and 50 percent at the foul line. You don’t win many games with those kind of stats. That’s basketball. You’ve just got to find a way to win.”
Long memories helped, too. Chestnut (11 points) and Camille Calhoun (nine points, 10 rebounds) were on the Spalding team that bowed out in the NHSI semifinals two years ago to Dr. Phillips, letting a second-half lead slip away. They had vowed to not let that happen again.
“We didn’t want to be embarrassed on TV,” Calhoun said. “I came in the first time thinking we weren’t going to.”
Squandering a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter Friday might have qualified as another game to regret, but the Cavaliers were able to hang on. It was 54-50 with three minutes left after Dillard senior guard Eva Myers scored on a drive to the basket.
The Panthers then forced a turnover, but Chestnut grabbed the rebound and seconds later fed sophomore Kaila Clark for a crucial basket. Dillard went the final 2 minutes 4 seconds without scoring.
“I got a little worried,” Calhoun said. “But I trust my teammates.”
Tulsa-bound forward Kayla Wright led Dillard (28-3), the Florida 5A champion, with 19 points and six rebounds. Myers, the MVP of her state tournament, was 4 for 20 from the floor. She scored 12 points.
“As a team, they keep hustling, and they’re long and tall and athletic,” Dillard Coach Marcia Pinder said of Spalding. “But it was more of what we did. We turned the ball over with no pressure. That’s ludicrous. But they’re good.”
With the game ending in the early afternoon, the Cavaliers had plenty of time to relax at their hotel and go out to eat to celebrate with Chestnut. A small cheering section serenaded her with “Happy Birthday” as she made her way through the handshake line.