December 6, 2021

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GEICO Nationals Championship: Montverde captures fifth title; Westlake girls win first crown

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Beating the same basketball team three times in the same season is relatively tough.

However, Montverde’s second half made it look very easy.

Thanks to a combined 41 points by Michigan signee Caleb Houstan, Baylor signee Langston Love, and Creighton signee Ryan Nembhard, the Eagles captured their fifth GEICO National boys basketball championship with a 62-52 win over Sunrise Christian (Kan.) Saturday afternoon at Suncoast Credit Union Arena.

“It was a great moment, because we weren’t able to play in GEICO last year with a team that was blessed with so much talent,” Montverde coach Kevin Boyle said. “Many people thought that might’ve been the best high school team ever, with four guys that are going to be picked in the first round of the NBA Draft this year. We finally put it together offensively like I thought we could, but it took us a while.”

Ahead 23-21 at the half, Montverde didn’t miss a shot in the third quarter on 12 attempts, and led 51-38 after 24 minutes.

“You have to give to give credit to Montverde,” Sunrise Christian coach Luke Barnwell said. “They probably played one of their better games in the third quarter. That’s probably the best quarter they played all year. We just couldn’t dig out of that hole like we have the past couple of nights.”

Nembhard nailed two key treys earlier in the game, and hit another one to finish off the Buffaloes late in the fourth quarter.

“It’s been a journey,” Nembhard said. “There was a bunch of younger guys that came in, a bunch of younger guys. We lost a lot of great players, but we were all focused from the beginning. We trusted Coach Boyle, and we knew if we trusted him we could be here. And we’re glad we’re here, and we glad we got it done.”

Boyle said postgame that Love was nearly a scratch from today’s game with multiple injuries that have affected his performance as of late, but he finished with 13 points, seven rebounds, and five assists.

“It was just the grind to get here,” Love said. “Long season, long practices, just all that put together. To come out with the win and to reach our final goal, nothing like it. There’s no feeling like that.”

In the loss for Sunrise Christian, Tennessee-bound Kennedy Chandler had nine points, three rebounds, and seven assists. Michigan State signee Jaden Akins had 14 points, three rebounds, and a pair of assists. Baylor signee Kendall Brown finished his high school career with 11 points, three rebounds, and two blocks.

Barnwell’s final address to his team, which made their deepest run yet, was a somber one.

“I told them thank you,” Barnwell said. “Kendall and Zach (Clemence) have been here for a couple of years. Kenny (Pohto) has been here for three years. Then we get Jaden and Jaylon, and Kennedy coming this year. Just thankful that they came in and trusted us to get to this point. We put a lot of effort into this thing and lot of time and energy. These kids deserved the opportunity tonight, and they deserved to win. It didn’t go our way, but it doesn’t stop my gratitude for their efforts.”

Westlake (Ga.) 70, Paul VI (Va.) 50

The Westlake girls basketball team vividly remembered Dec. 7, 2019.

In the Art Turner Memorial Tournament, Paul VI handed the Lions their first loss in 34 games spanning back to their undefeated 2018-19 season.

Raven Johnson, Ta’Niya Latson, and Brianna Turnage had a chance to return the favor Saturday morning as Westlake cruised to a 70-50 win over the Panthers in the GEICO Nationals championship game.

More: GEICO Nationals: Montverde, Sunrise make boys final; Westlake, Paul VI to meet for girls title

“It means a lot that we’re bringing this GEICO Championship back to Georgia,” Johnson said. “Representing Georgia on the national map means a lot.”

“I think it feels good being just able to add this title,” Turnage added. “Four Georgia state championships. Not a lot of teams get selected for something as big as this.”

In the game, Latson led all scorers with 31 points. Johnson, a South Carolina signee, totaled 17 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists. Turnage, who is headed to Virginia Tech, came close to a triple-double, with 11 points, 11 rebounds, and seven blocks. Turnage went 5-for-5 from the field.

“I just continued to be aggressive,” Latson said. “I played my game, and tried to be a leader for my team and put them on my back and kept going.”

Westlake coach Hilda Hankerson’s senior class went 112-4 with four state championships and now a GEICO National Championship in their final game.

“First of all, I just want to thank God for giving us the opportunity to do this,” Hankerson said. “This group right here is so special, even though Ta’Niya is a junior. They all played like they were the leaders of the team all year. It meant a lot to us. We lost to Paul VI a year ago. We had a little chip on our shoulder. We didn’t want them to go 2-0. We had to split it 1-1. I told them if we split it 1-1, we’d be the national champions. It’s a two-fold win, but we don’t ever like to have somebody beat us twice. In four years, nobody has done that. We take pride in that legacy that this group has left.”

After opening the first quarter shooting 8-for-10 from the field, Paul VI made 12-of-46 attempts over the final three quarters. Jaelyn Talley led the Panthers with 17 points, six rebounds, and four assists. Bella Perkins added 14 points, while Duke signee Lee Volker had 10 points and four rebounds.

“I told them how proud I was of them,” said Paul VI coach Scott Allen on his four seniors. “This is a crazy year. This is our 12th game this year. (Westlake) played 22. They had to fight through the adversity that they did. Our four seniors were the glue of this program and the legacy that they’re leaving behind. There’s no other team that’s going to have a legacy like this team, and we talked about that at the beginning of the year.

“Don’t be sad and upset that it ended, just be very thankful that it happened. There’s only two high school teams that are playing in the entire country right now.”

Follow The News-Press and Naples Daily News Sports Writer Alex Martin on Twitter: @NP_AlexMartin. For the best sports coverage in Southwest Florida, follow @newspresssports and @ndnprepzone on Instagram.

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