Nova overcomes slow start to top Tampa Bay Tech and advance to state title game

Nova’s Gabrielle Gonzalez shoots over Tampa Bay Tech’s Auryel Perkins during the first half of their 8A state semifinal game on Friday at Lakeland’s RP Funding Center. (Michael Laughlin / Sun Sentinel)

The first eight minutes couldn’t have gone any worse for the Nova girls basketball team.

Facing Tampa Bay Tech in the Class 8A state semifinals, Nova shot 1-12 from the field and turned the ball over six times. When the horn sounded to end the frame, the Titans trailed Tampa Bay Tech — also nicknamed the Titans — 13-3.

But after struggling in that opening quarter, Nova went to work. The Titans battled back to tie the game at half and took the lead for good in the third quarter as they rebounded for a 46-41 win over Tampa Bay Tech at the RP Funding Center.

“We didn’t get off to a good start, but one thing we won’t do is get down,” Nova coach Jason Hively said. “We know we can come back. We did switch to a new defense and that got us going and we settled down.”

Gabrielle Gonzales led the way for Nova, finishing with a game-high 12 points. Trinity Delancy reached double figures as well, scoring 11 on the afternoon. Tulane signee Erin Gutierrez chipped in with eight points.

Nova (30-1) will play Winter Haven on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. for the state championship. Nova’s only loss on the season came to Blue Devils’ earlier in the season. Winter Haven won that contest 51-42 on Jan. 13 at the MVP Sports MLK Classic in Hallandale.

Nova will be going for its first girls basketball title. The Titans finished as state runners-up in 2009 and 2013.

After its slow start, Nova started to heat up in the third quarter. The Titans took their first lead of the contest with 6:02 left in the frame on a Delancy 3-pointer and never trailed again.

One of Broward’s top players,Gutierrez was held scoreless in the first half against Tampa Bay Tech (26-4) before getting getting on the board. While she only connected on one field goal, the senior went 6-of-8 from the free-throw line.

“When you’re a basketball player, you can’t always think about what happened in the past,” Gutierrez said. “You have to have a clean slate every possession you play. Every one of these girls stepped up and they were all ready and we were able to get back in the swing of things.”

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