FORT WALTON BEACH — Don't look now, but the Crestview High School girls basketball team is still alive in the Class 7A playoffs.
The Bulldogs will make their first appearance in the elite eight since 1991 on Saturday when they travel to Apopka to play the Wekiva Mustangs in the region finals.
Crestview extended its season in impressive fashion Tuesday with a 51-39 win over Fort Walton Beach High School in the region semifinals.
Tuesday's game was the fourth meeting between the Bulldogs and Vikings this year. Fort Walton Beach won two of the first three games, but Crestview (20-8) won when it mattered most.
The Bulldogs, who started the season 6-6 and have won 14 of their last 16 games, continued to use the winning formula of a pressure defense and timely scoring.
Crestview Coach Kathy Combest, who has a storied coach career, said Tuesday's win ranks with the biggest of her career.
"You have to realize Crestview has been in a long drought," she said. "These girls right here have stepped up and proved they can play this game.
"We started off (the season slow). They bought into what we told them as coaches and just came through."
Hollie Troell scored the game's first basket to give Fort Walton Beach (17-9) an early 2-0 lead.
An Ariann Simms basket sparked an 8-0 Bulldog run that included scores by Jensis Coleman, Jasmine Middleton and KK White. The Vikings battled back and took an 11-10 lead on a DeDe McLane basket with 44 seconds left in the first quarter.
Simms responded with a 3-point basket to put the Bulldogs in front 13-11 at the end of the first quarter.
The respective defenses took over in the second quarter as the Vikings managed to score only six points while holding the Bulldogs to four points as the game was tied at 17-17 at the half.
A Christa Johnson basket off an offensive rebound 35 seconds into the third quarter gave Crestview a 19-17 lead.
The Vikings got back-to-back baskets from Quay McNabb and Makayla Evans to regain the lead at 21-19 with 6:43 left in the third quarter.
Less than 20 seconds later Simms nailed a 3-pointer to ignite a 12-0 Bulldog run and Crestview led the rest of the game.
The Bulldogs led 33-27 at the start of the fourth quarter. Twice in the final period the Vikings got to within three points of Crestview. Each time the Bulldogs responded pulled just far enough in front to keep the Vikings out of reach.
The Vikings battled until the final 20 seconds when Fort Walton Beach coach Holly McDaniel conceded defeat by instructing her team not to foul.
"I just don't even know what to say," Simms said. "I feel like I'm on cloud nine right now with my team.
"All those laps she (Combest) made us do and the defensive drills have paid off.”
Simms led all scorers with 19 points. White scored 13 and Coleman 10.
McNabb led the Vikings with 13 points. McLane joined her in double figures with 11.
"It (the win) feels amazing," Middleton said. "I can't even describe it. We had played them a bunch of times so we were really relaxed.
"Everybody came ready to play. Everybody did what they needed to do. They played defense and they played offense the whole time."
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524.