After finishing as runner-ups the last two years, a determined group of hardworking young ladies said ’no’ to second place Tuesday night. The Destin Marlins whipped the Davidson Panthers 49-28 to earn the title of Okaloosa County Middle School Girl’s Basketball Champions, something a Destin girls’ basketball team had never done.


To say the team was excited would be putting it mildly.


"It feels like everything that we’ve worked through and every single season ... like it was never perfect timing. But it all came together at the end when we needed it most," said Destin point guard and team co-captain Jessica Pierce in the locker room following the victory. "It feels great.


"It feels like I’ve accomplished something because this school has never won basketball before. So it was nice that we could do this for our school and show what our school is and represent DMS," she added.



Leading scorer and co-captain Anna Kimball agreed.


"It feels so good. We worked so hard for this," Kimball said.


"It was terrible," finishing as runner-ups last year, said Ava Smith, who was also a co-captain. "You always got that scratch on your shoulder, chip on your shoulder. You’re always going to remember that.


"So we all went into the game remembering from last year ... we wanted to win," Smith added.


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And besides shear determination, team work was the key.


"We worked really well together as a team," Kimball said.


"As Destin we strive to play the hardest. Even if we don’t win, we play hard and we did that tonight and it showed," Smith added.


The Marlins took charge early, jumping out to an 11-3 lead in the first quarter over Davidson. Smith drew a foul in the first 15 seconds and went to the line hitting the first of two. Davidson answered with a bucket from Jezyah McTear. Destin then put up eight consecutive points with Carson Fayard hitting a jumper followed by an inside shot from Kimball. Kimball, who finished with 20 points, drew a couple of fouls and hit two of four tries and Smith finished up the run with a putback baskets. Davidson scored one last point on a free throw, before Pierce hit a jumper at the buzzer for an 11-3 advantage.


In the second quarter, Destin continued to take it to the Panthers and outscored them 11-6. Kimball worked the inside for six points points, plus one from the line, while Fayard cashed in on a steal for a quick layup. Seconds later Fayard, who wrapped up with 11 points, put a rebound back for two. In the last two minutes, Davidson’s Emily Overstreet knocked down two buckets. Destin led 22-9 at the half.


Destin picked up in the third right where they left off before the half. Kimball, who had 14 rebounds on the night, put one back for two points, Davidson’s Natalie Toney scored then Destin put up eight straight with Pierce, Smith and Fayard scoring. In the last two minutes, Davidson’s Tiarra Jackson scored two baskets and Kimball made a free throw and hit an inside shot for a 35-15 lead at the end of three.


In the fourth quarter, Destin’s Kimball and Smith hit back-to-back baskets, then Overstreet put a pair of rebounds back for four points for the Panthers. Fayard put up three points and Anabelle Shackelford scored on a free throw. In the last three minutes, Davidson scored nine while Destin’s Kimball scored two points, Fayard made a steal and passed off to Shackleford who made a layup for two. Cami Davies scored the last two points for Destin.


With the win, the Marlins finished the season 13-1 with a county title and a promise of a banner to hang up on the gym wall.


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"We didn’t have a lot of time to prepare," said Destin Coach Susie Pierce.


The girls were coming off a hard-fought victory over Ruckel on Monday night.


Coach said, that after calling around and gathering as much data as possible about Davidison, they came up with a game plan in about 20 minutes.


"And they went out and played their little hearts out ... they were tired," Coach Pierce said.


Although Pierce will be losing more than half a dozen girls to high school, she said they should be prepared for next season.


"I hate to see them go, but I feel like we have prepared them for the next level," she said.