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Rayko’s 3 completes Celebration girls’ 50-49 comeback at St. Cloud

Posted on Saturday, January 6, 2018 at 1:03 pm

By Ken Jackson
Staff Writer

Senior forward Alyssa Rayko’s three-pointer with 2.3 seconds left lifted the Celebration girls basketball team to a comeback 50-49 win over host St. Cloud Friday.

The Storm (5-7) erased a 27-15 halftime deficit in getting the win, which put them at 3-1 in the Orange Belt Conference. St. Cloud is 1-1, and both trail undefeated Osceola (3-0) and Harmony (2-0).

Celebration drilled seven three-pointers in the second half, including Rayko’s on the Storm’s final possession. Seconds earlier, a Storm bad pass went out of bounds, but they got new life on defense preventing St. Cloud from inbounding the ball and forcing a five-second violation.

Rayko said it was her first-ever game-winning shot.

“The play wasn’t even designed for me,” she said. “There was the option to drive it but I knew there wasn’t much time left on the clock so I shot it.”

CHS Coach Beltran Munoz said his team never lost faith, especially after a trying first-half shooting the ball despite scoring the game’s first seven points.

“They keep fighting, and we have shooters who believe in their shooting so we know we can make shots to get back in it,” he said. “The kids were in the gym today (on the last day of winter break) and Alyssa was in there making shots. Gabby (Suarez, CHS’ leading scorer with 18 points) was unselfish and passed it to the open shot. It’s a huge win for us, I definitely us at St. Cloud are jockeying for second or third in the district.

After spotting the Storm a 7-0 lead, the Bulldogs (9-5) heated up themselves and went on a 20-3 run that ran into the second quarter, behind the distributing of freshman point guard Moriah Sanchez (nine points, five assists) three-point shooting of sophomore shooting guard Becca Benge (15 points) and inside presence of freshman center Eno Inyang (19 points, 13 rebounds).

But Celebration systematically chipped away at the lead in the second half with an 11-2 run in the third quarter that made it 29-26 St. Cloud. After Inyang and Benge helped prop the lead back to 45-33 with six minutes left, Khaila Yu (12 points) responded with back-to-back three-pointers.

Suarez’s three-pointer with 48.8 seconds left made it a 49-47 game, setting up the last-seconds high drama.

Bulldogs Coach Chad Ansbaugh said his team just didn’t match Celebration’s intensity late in the game.

“Against a savvy team like them you have to put the game away and we just gave it away,” he said. “But we’ll learn from this.”

The game was the Class 8A District 6 opener for both schools. Celebration now faces a stretch of five district games in 16 days which starts Wednesday at Melbourne. St. Cloud will play at county rivals Liberty (Monday) and Harmony (Thursday) next week.