PACE — Pace Elite Basketball, a Florida Amateur Athletic Union Girls Basketball club, competed in the AAU State Championships’ eighth-grade D2 and ninth-grade divisions May 13-14. The AAU State Tournament was held in Tavares, Fla., at The Big House, USA.

The Pace Elite 2021 (eighth grade) team won both their pool games and were seeded No. 1 in the Gold Bracket playoff. This team consists of two seventh-graders, Paiten Rivera (Avalon Middle School) and Ayanna Kelker (West Florida Baptist) plus six eighth-graders, Laikyn Burklow, Kensley Burroughs, Shay Crooks, Riley Poggi, Sophie Richards and Violette Skipworth (all from Sims Middle School). Three other players, Hope Zagar and Haylee High (2022) and Shana Lewis (2021), were unable to make the tournament. This team was eliminated in their Sunday bracket game with a score of 34-46.

The Pace Elite 2020 (ninth grade) team lost both pool games and were seeded in the Silver bracket for the playoff. This team consists of players from four Santa Rosa County high schools plus the eighth-graders from Elite 2021: Hayden Burkett (Jay High School); Cyla Byrd, Maddy May and Makayla Michael (all from Pace High School); Brae Phillips (Central High School) and Julia Rathbun (2019-Navarre High School).

On Sunday, Pace Elite 2020 beat Central Florida United 2020 by a score of 44-34 to take them to the Silver Championship game, where they faced the Florida Lightning. This game proved to be the most challenging with each team swapping leads throughout the game.

The halftime score was 27-32 with Pace leading. Elite sealed the AAU State Silver Championship by shooting 8 for 13 (61.5 percent) from the 3-point line, with 16 assists, 20 rebounds and playing defense with critical help from the bench. The final score was 55-52.

Head Coach Eric Kirkpatrick and Assistant Coaches Raven Smith, Shawn Crooks and Carl Byrd, along with Tim Michael, general manager for Pace Elite basketball, called shots from the bench.

“Winning an AAU State Championship tournament is a significant milestone for Pace Elite basketball!” Michael said. “We could not have done this without the support of our parents, sponsors and coaches. More importantly, we have such a great group of coachable players dedicated to working hard, getting better and having fun.

“Elimination from the eighth grade early on Sunday was tough for us, but it did help us in ninth grade by allowing us to rest them before we started our ninth-grade playoff. This allowed us to sub 5 for 5 on the floor and run a man-to-man press for almost the entire semi-final and championship game.

“We faced tough competitors from areas with populations 10 times that of our small section of Santa Rosa county and came out victorious! Our players, coaches and parents showed unbelievable resilience in this tournament!”