St. Cloud will play in its first regional finals game since winning the Class 4A state title in 1994 after a 53-25 win Tuesday over Windermere in a Region 8A-2 semifinal that was dominant in many ways.
The Bulldogs (28-2), now winners of 23 in a row, will play at Tampa Plant (25-4) on Friday at 7 p.m. for the right to head to the FHSAA state tournament in Lakeland next week.
St. Cloud's dominance happened because the Wolverines (21-6) had no answers for 6-1 center Eno Iyang, who dominated the paint and scored a game-high 22 points to reach 1,000 career points during her sophomore year, and energetic "6th man" Angie Rodriguez, who gave such a spark to the Bulldogs offense (career-high 17 points) and defense (four steals) that Coach Chad Ansbaugh just couldn't take her off the floor.
"She obviously could be a starter, but then you don't get that spark of energy," the coach said. "Even in her worst game she's going to have an impact. We did not want (Windermere) to steal our energy when they called timeout when we were up 16-6."
The Bulldogs were also much better handling the ball Tuesday than they were in their quarterfinal win last week over East Ridge, which was would have been just as dominant without 19 turnovers. They committed just five Tuesday; two came after Ansbaugh emptied the bench with the game decided.
Rodriguez said after the game it was the best of her young career thus far.
"I knew I had to be mentally prepared, and I made sure I was when we watched film as a team," she said. "This team is amazing, we bring each other up. I make sure I bring the energy to the court when I'm in there."
Unkind iron for both sides kept it a close game early (St. Cloud led 9-6 after one quarter), but the Bulldogs used a 14-4 run between the first and second periods to build a double-digit lead that Windermere would only be able to cut to eight on a couple of occasions.
And it was Inyang and Rodriguez, who scored 39 of St. Cloud's 53 points, largely doing the damage. The Bulldogs racked up 13 assists, mostly feeding Inyang in the post who would then take her defender to the hoop, or Rodriguez slashing to the basket. The spark plug scored right before the buzzer in the second and third quarters following steals and coast-to-coast lay-ups.
The last gave St. Cloud a 42-19 edge going to the fourth quarter, and behind Inyang, who scored eight in the fourth, the Bulldogs coasted into Friday's regional final at Plant, who features four starters at 5-11 or taller.
Jaden Langer added eight points, all in the second half after ditching a face guard for a broken nose suffered in the district championship game, and Beka Benge added two three-pointers to her school record single-season tally of long shots.