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Defending champ Dr. Phillips faces Colonial for FHSAA girls 7A state basketball title

Colonial senior Carmen Richardson was aware that merely returning to the FHSAA girls basketball state tournament for a third consecutive season was not enough.

“It feels great getting there three times in a row, but we still haven’t finished it,” Richardson said after leading the Grenadiers to a regional championship win two weeks ago. “We still need to make it past the final four.”

The No. 1 seed Grenadiers (27-3) did just that Friday morning while holding off a fierce rally by Doral Academy (23-8) during a 55-49 win in a Class 7A semifinal.

Richardson led all players with 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting. She also finished with 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals.

Colonial faces back-to-back defending champion Dr. Phillips for the 7A state title Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at RP Funding Center in Lakeland.

DP is 6-2 vs. Colonial since 2006, including a 46-32 win last season and 48-42 win in 2018-19.

“Colonial is the favorite. They’re No. 1,” DP coach Anthony Jones said. “I think if we can control the boards, I like our chances.”

Admission to the state final is $15 at the RP Funding Center Box Office. Parking is $10. The contest will stream live online for a fee at NFHSNetwork.com.

Dr. Phillips (26-4) outlasted Winter Haven (23-6) for a 65-62 win in the other semifinal Friday afternoon. It was a rematch of last year’s championship game won 47-43 by the Panthers.

This time, the teams got caught up in a free-throw shooting contest down the stretch after senior Trinity Turner stole an inbound pass and drained a buzzer-beating 3 to put DP in front 48-40 entering the fourth quarter.

“When we started stepping up defensively we got the looks we wanted at the other end,” Turner said after the game.

The Panthers went 13-of-14 from the foul line while Winter Haven went 17-of-24 over the game’s final eight minutes. The teams combined for 70 free-throw attempts in all as each squad had two players foul out.

Winter Haven, which got a 26-point effort from Serenity Hardy, cut the DP lead to 2 points four times inside the final two minutes.

“It was a war. We play the same style. Throw the records out,” Jones said. “We all anticipated this.”

Turner led the Panthers with 18 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals. Kendall Perry added 12 points and 4 assists.

Dr. Phillips, riding a 19-game win streak, is going for its second 3-peat at the state tournament since winning three in a row in 2011, ‘12 and ‘13.

“It’s hard to 3-peat,” Jones told the Orlando Sentinel in January. “We’re always circled on somebody’s schedule, but that’s what comes with it. It’s supposed to be tough and hard, but we’re up for the challenge.”

Colonial, chasing its first state title, is making a championship-game appearance for the first time since finishing runner-up in 2015.

Jalei O’Neal scored 11 points and Jasmynne Gibson came away with 9 points and 7 rebounds in Friday’s win while helping the Grenadiers own a 34-16 advantage in points in the paint.

Colonial built a substantial 29-13 lead with two minutes to go in the first half. Doral chipped away at the deficit and stormed back late by way of four 3s in the fourth quarter to get within 47-46 with 2:17 to play.

“Everyone stayed positive, even on the bench,” Gibson said of the team at that moment. “Positivity is, I think, what gave us the game.”

A layup by O’Neal on an inbounds play out of a timeout from in front of Colonial’s bench and free throws by Richardson the rest of the way helped cap the wire-to-wire finish.

“We got Jalei on a mismatch,” Colonial coach Cindy Richardson said of the layup. “That was a really big bucket.”

The matchup between Dr. Phillips and Colonial will mark the first girls basketball state final between Orlando area teams since Wekiva defeated Harmony 59-48 to win the 7A title in 2014.

DP defeated Lake Mary 58-57 (OT) in a state title game between area teams in 2011. Lake Mary upended Boone 46-34 in a 1998 state final.

This article originally appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email J.C. Carnahan at jcarnahan@orlandosentinel.com.