PONCE DE LEON, Fla. (WMBB)– The Ponce de Leon girls basketball team won the Class 1A State Championship on Friday night 40-37 over Hawthorne. Saturday evening, the team was welcomed home from Lakeland by its beloved Pirate Nation.
“You can’t explain it, you look out at these people and it shows you what it means to this community,” Ponce de Leon head girls basketball coach Brad Alford said.
The state title win didn’t come easy. The Lady Pirates were down late in the fourth quarter.
“It’s about keeping their composure and not really panicking when you may get hit in the mouth, and I thought they hit us in the mouth, and turned it into a dog fight,” Alford said.
The battle lasted until the final minute of the game after a three by Cadence Alford, the game was tied at 37.
“It was we get a stop right here, and I know we have that mindset of we were not giving up, and we’re gonna win this thing,” Cadence said.
Ponce de Leon got the stop they hoped for and then they were able to execute on offense. Lily Brooks hit the game-winning three-pointer with just nine seconds left on the clock. The team said it wasn’t planned out that Brooks, or any player, in particular, would take the shot because they all trust one another.
“It was unreal and then realizing it was my last shot ever it was just big,” Brooks said.
The basket gave the program its fourth state title.
“All of us seniors have dreamed about this for so long, all the work, all the miles… it’s worth it, it really is,” Ponce de Leon senior Michelle Neal said.
The title capped off the team’s incredible year, the Lady Pirates ended the season 22-2, winning 19 games straight.
“It’s amazing especially to be coached by your father to have both of our names up on the wall,” Cadence said.
A handful of players join their mothers’ names on the wall as they were previous state champions.