MULBERRY – Friday night’s Class 5A-District 8 championship game came to a screeching halt when Mulberry’s Mercedes Clark went head-first into the bleachers in the fourth quarter.

Avon Park had the lead when the game was stopped for nearly 30 minutes as Clark was taken away by ambulance. The Red Devils lost the momentum and the game as Mulberry rallied to post a 54-47 victory.

Despite the loss, Avon Park will play a regional quarterfinal this week.

“We started off pretty good in the two-three zone,” said Avon Park Coach Paulette Daley. “After one of the Mulberry girls got injured it killed our momentum. We threw the ball away and didn’t handle the ball. We just didn’t match Mulberry’s intensity. We missed layups. Congratulations to Mulberry who put in the work.”

Avon Park took a lead in the first quarter as Keke William scored, Dashayla Hawthorne netted a 3-pointer and Tajenay Vassell sank a jump shot giving the Red Devils a 7-0 lead.

Mulberry narrowed the deficit to 7-5. Jamya Houston and Vassell each made layups increasing the Red Devils lead to 11-7 with 4:35 left in the first period. Vassell made a layup and was fouled on the play and added a free throw. Vassell then made a jump shot expanding Avon Park’s lead to 16-11.

Clarissa Garza made a shot at the buzzer to give the Red Devils an 18-11 lead heading to the second quarter.

In the second period, Avon Park’s Asiah Dewberry netted a jump shot, but the Panthers rallied to tie the game at 20 with 3:54 let in the first half.

Avon Park reclaimed control with Vassell making a layup and a 3-pointer and Garza made a jump shot. Mulberry’s Praya Franklin made a layup to make it 27-24 at the half with the Red Devils on top.

Mulberry continued to trail Avon Park in the third period. Williams made a put-back and Vassell made a shot off the glass.

The Panthers went on a run putting up five points tying the game.

Avon Park’s Aaliyah Brown made one of two free throws. Mulberry took the lead with a layup by Samara Clark to make it 33-31.

Avon Park rallied with Hawthorne banking a shot off the glass and Vassell added a basket to make it 35-33 Red Devils heading to the final quarter.

Avon Park extended its lead as Vassell made an a layup and a free throw and Brown scored four points to give the Red Devils a 43-33 lead.

Mulberry’s Serena McPlatt netted a 3-pointer and moments later the game abruptly stopped as Clark was injured and the once deafening gymnasium went silent.

After about 30 minutes the game resumed, but Avon Park had lost its momentum. Vassell passed to Hawthorne who made a jump shot. Mulberry rallied putting up 10 points to take a 48-46 lead.

Vassell was fouled and made one of two free throws. The Panthers went on a run with Franklin making a pair of layups and Cook went two-for-two at the line clinching the 54-47 victory.

“Tajenay Vassell had a good game, Aaliyah Brown did a good job and Asiah Dewberry played with an injured ankle,” said Daley. “Turnovers, throwing away the ball and losing momentum killed us tonight.”

Avon Park will hit the road for a regional quarterfinal and the Red Devils will play the Melbourne Central Catholic Hustlers on Thursday night.

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