FORT WALTON BEACH — Crestview High School junior point guard Jensis Coleman was at her best with the District 1-7A girls semifinal basketball game on the line Thursday night.
Coleman scored 13 of her game high 26 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Bulldogs to a 51-42 win over Niceville at Fort Walton Beach High School’s Viking Gymnasium.
Crestview (18-7) will meet Fort Walton Beach in the tournament championship game at 7 p.m. Saturday at Fort Walton Beach.
The win also assured the Bulldogs a spot in the state playoffs that start next week.
Powered by six points from Coleman and four from Jasmine Middleton the young Bulldog team jumped to a 13-0 lead six minutes into the game.
At that point it looked as the equally young Eagle squad might be doomed.
A Jessie Day basket followed by a Michaela Mitchell 3-pointer pulled Niceville to within 13-5 and gave the Eagles (14-11) some much needed momentum.
Jaci Hodskins scored six points in the second quarter to lead the Eagle charge as Niceville went on a 16-6 run. A pair of Hodskins’ free throws with 22 seconds left in the first half gave Niceville its first lead at 21-20.
But the momentum swung back to Crestview when Bulldog freshman KK White hit a 3-pointer as the half ended giving Crestview a 23-21 lead at the break.
“They got a little rattled and I just had to settle them down and tell them not to get back and play our game,” Bulldog Coach Kathy Combest. “Niceville’s so big they did give us some problems, but we adjusted and regained our composure.
“We knew we had to beat Niceville to play Fort Walton again. And we to play Fort Walton to make it known that we are a basketball team too.”
Niceville’s zone defense bothered Crestview throughout much of the game, but the Bulldogs still found themselves on top 30-24 with just more than a minute left in the third quarter.
Back-to-back Day 3-pointers were followed by back-to-back scores by Hodskins as the Eagles ran off 10 unanswered points in a span of 76 seconds.
Hodskins second basket of the run came 16 seconds into the fourth quarter and gave the Eagles their largest lead of the night at four points.
Coleman and her Bulldog teammates then went to work using a pressure defense to grind out the win down the stretch.
“I feel like Crestview is coming back (to being a force in girls basketball),” Middleton said. “That’s all you can say.
“We always have to stay together. We might be down, but we can always come back as long as we stay together and do what we are capable of we’ll be OK.”
With 26 points Coleman was the only Bulldog in double figures. White added nine points and Middleton eight in the win.
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at email@example.com, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524.