By: Rolando Rosa - JCFloridan.com
Evelyn Akhator shattered the record books in her final state tournament appearance as the Chipola Lady Indians won the FCSAA Women's Basketball Championship for the second straight season with a 70-56 victory over Northwest Florida State on Saturday from Ocala.
Now the Lady Indians have their sights on capturing the program's first national title.
In a rematch of last year's state title matchup, Akhator scored 27 points and grabbed a state tournament record 29 rebounds. Akhator set new marks in total rebounds in a single state tournament (64) and the overall state tournament record for a career with 101. For her remarkable accomplishments, the 6-foot-3 sophomore forward from Lagos, Nigeria was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
"Evelyn is a joy to coach," Chipola coach Greg Franklin said. "She works hard, plays hard and she's a great team player."
It was the first time the No.1 state ranked and No.2 nationally ranked Lady Indians (30-1) have won consecutive state tournament titles since 2006-2007 and they're the first team to do so since Pensacola State in 2011-2012. Chipola earned an automatic bid to the national tournament in Salina, KS which will be from March 16 to March 21.
"It's a great day to be an Indian," Franklin said. "I was pleased with the way we played together. It was a great defensive game."
An Akhator offensive rebound and putback made it 61-46 but No.2 state ranked and No.3 nationally ranked Northwest Florida State (26-4) fought back to trim the lead to eight. Akhator delivered the dagger though on a layup with 1:15 remaining, giving the Lady Indians a double-digit advantage.
On a crucial call with 9:38 to go, Tyshara Fleming fouled a driving Akhator. It was Fleming's fourth foul and would have been Akhator's fourth had the call instead been a charge.
Moments later Akhator snared an offensive rebound and kicked it out to Sueterrica Key (12 points) for a 3-pointer which put Chipola ahead by 15 with 9:46 to go. Chipola was 0-for-6 in the first half on 3-pointers but made 4-for-8 in the second half. Akhator even got in on the act, knocking down a 3-pointer with 15:35 left to give Chipola an 11-point lead.
Janisha Lindsey dished out a game-high eight assists for the Lady Indians. Daniela Wallen and Simone Westbrook each scored 12 points for the Lady Raiders, which are still likely to receive an automatic bid to the national tournament.
In a highly physical and intense matchup between two Panhandle rivals, there were 42 fouls overall, with five players being called for at least four. Both teams harassed each other into 17 turnovers apiece.
Chipola jumped out to a 15-4 lead on an offensive rebound and score by Rosemarie Julien with 13:38 to go in the first half. Northwest Florida State crept back into the game by forcing Chipola scoreless during a five minute stretch midway through the first half. The Lady Indians ended the drought on a pair of free throws by Auteaonna Gilmore and a pretty spin move layup by Akhator to go up eight with 7:18 in the first half.
Akhator had a dominant first half (nine points, 18 rebounds) but committed her third foul with 4:27 left until halftime. The Lady Indians however would outscore the Lady Raiders by three to close out the first half and take a 32-22 edge into the break.
The Lady Raiders handed Chipola its lone loss of the season on Jan. 17. However, the Lady Indians exacted revenge on Jan. 31 and Feb. 21 in the season finale.
Under Franklin, Chipola is 92-11 overall and 49-7 vs. ranked state opponents. The 2015 Region VII Coach of the Year, Franklin is hoping to guide the Lady Indians to the top of the sport in his third season at the helm. Chipola finished third place in the national tournament last year.