As Courtney Jacob stepped to the foul line for the biggest free throws of her life, all she could see was herself staring back.
With a three-point lead and just over a minute to play in the Class 5A state championship game, the pressure of the situation was tough enough. But she had to somehow look away from the Jumbotron screen showing the standout senior from Barron Collier.
“When I looked up and saw myself on the screen, I just had to block that out,” Jacob said. “It definitely wasn’t a typical situation at the foul line.”
Jacob calmly sank the front end of the one-and-one, and then the back end, giving the Cougars a 41-36 lead in an eventual 43-36 win over Class 5A No. 1 Winter Haven in the state championship game Friday night at the Lakeland Center. Jacob helped the Cougars make another defensive stop, then sank two more free throws for the final margin.
The clutch free throws and a team-high 11 points and three assists earned Jacob the MVP honors for the tournament.
“It’s unbelievable walking out of here as a senior as a state champion and tournament MVP,” Jacob said. “I couldn’t have a better group of teammates or a better group of coaches. It’s just an amazing feeling.”
The 5-foot-11 Jacob, who was the Cougars’ leading scorer with more than 17 points a game, was more of a defensive presence in the Final Four. She scored just eight points in the state semifinal win over Largo, but her size and speed presented problems for smaller guards on both squads.
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- AUDIO: Class 5A state championship game media
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She helped the Cougars hold the top-ranked Blue Devils to an unfathomable nine points at halftime, an impressive feat considering Winter Haven was averaging well over 60 points per contest. Ever the leader, she warned her teammates that the game was far from over despite an 18-9 halftime lead.
“We had to pretend like we were the team down at halftime, not them,” she said. “We knew that they would come out hungry and that they wanted the game badly. But we wanted it more.”
The Blue Devils made several runs at the Cougars, trimming the lead to two points in the third quarter and three points on three occasions in the final quarter.
“We just had to take a deep breath and calm down a little,” she said. “This was the last chance for the seniors so we just picked each other up and never gave up the lead.”