Colleen Bucknor couldn’t wipe the grin off her face as she pawed at her shiny, new gold medal. She kept staring at it as each one of her teammates draped theirs around their necks and Sam Baumgarten watched.
“It’s not silver!” the coach finally remarked. “This one’s not silver!”
Bucknor just started laughing. Miami High girls’ basketball, after coming up short in the state-title game each of the last two seasons, was finally a champion after crushing Tampa Plant, 63-38, in the Class 7A championship Saturday.
“I don’t think,” Baumgarten said, “they knew it came in gold.”
The Stingarees (27-5) pulled away in the second quarter and Plant’s counterpunch never came. Miami High outscored the Panthers, 20-4, in the second quarter. It closed the half on a 20-2 run. Plant (30-2) never cut the lead back to single digits after halftime at the RP Funding Center — an arena which has been a house of horrors for Bucknor and the Stingarees the last few years.
In 2018, Bucknor missed a potential game-winning putback and Miami High lost a one-point heartbreaker to Port Orange Spruce Creek. In 2019, the Stingarees fell to Apopka Wekiva in double overtime.
Bucknor hung on to those silver medals. The forward, who signed a national letter of intent with the Central Florida Knights last year, wanted to remember what it was like to come up short time and time again. She and Baumgarten still talk all the time about the shot she missed in 2018, and she can’t help but think about it anytime she walks into George Jenkins Arena.
“I have them,” Bucknor said. “It’s just like a reminder that this is what I was working for.”
In her final game for Miami High, Bucknor made sure there would be no stress as the final seconds ticked away. The senior scored 21 points on 6 of 12 shooting, with 11 rebounds, four steals and two blocks. She spent long stretches of the game matched up against Panthers power forward Kendal Cheesman, who’s committed to the Vanderbilt Commodores, and the Stingarees mostly shut her down. The star junior scored five points in the first quarter, then didn’t score again until the third, when Miami High had already built a double digit lead. Cheesman finished with 16 points, mostly coming in garbage time.
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Jeannine Scott, who also was on the court for the Stingarees’ last two losses in state championships, threw away her silver medals.
“I ain’t want no memories from the last two years,” the guard said. “I was focused on this year.”
She was at the center of Miami High’s biggest reinvention in 2020. The Stingarees, long a defensive juggernaut reliant on bruising interior scoring, often roll out a lineup with four guards and Scott is one of the biggest beneficiaries. The senior scored a game-high 22 points, taking advantage of the extra spacing to slash to the rim with regularity.
In the first half half, Miami High’s new and old styles collided.
With 14 seconds left in the first quarter, Scott came up with a steal and finished an and-one to give the Stingarees an 11-8 lead going to the second quarter. In the second quarter, Miami High scored five more points off turnovers and held Plant to just 1-of-8 shooting with four turnovers. On the other end, the Stingarees hit three three-pointers in the last three minutes of the second quarter to blow the game open. Related content
Miami High finished with nine steals, 10 points off turnovers and 26 second-chance points, only now the Stingarees’ vaunted defense had help. Miami High also went 19 of 38 from the field, 5 of 13 from three-point range and 20 of 27 at the free-throw line.
“Defense turns into offense,” Scott said, “and we just play off of that.”
With 56 seconds left, Bucknor made two free throws for the final two points of the game, then she headed to the game where she could finally start bawling.
It wasn’t an unusual scene for Bucknor. Tears have been routine for her on the bench as the clock ticked away the last few years. Finally, they were tears of joy.
“It’s just so emotional,” Bucknor said. “I’m glad that my last game I’m a state champion.”