LUTZ — Staring into the eyes of his players Saturday night, Steinbrenner girls basketball coach J.R. Allen reminded them why they will be remembered for making school history.
Just moments earlier, he delivered the same message using a microphone to the student body.
It was all he could do to try to soften the pain after the Warriors lost, 44-40, to visiting Harmony in the Class 7A-Region 2 championship.
The Warriors ended the season 26-4 and advanced farther than any team in the program’s short history.
Steinbrenner led 30-18 with 40 seconds left in the third quarter and appeared on its way to advancing to its first final four. Harmony, however, went on a 16-3 run, capped by a 3-pointer by Rebekah Fitzpatrick to take a 34-33 lead with 2:19 remaining in the game.
“When you have a 12-point lead and you’re at home, and you already don’t score a lot of points, that’s pretty good,” Allen said. “We kind of got away from what was working for us. We tried to hit the home run a lot in our offense, whether it was that first pass to the wing and then trying to get it inside right away instead of being patient and maybe grinding some clock ourselves and making them play defense. We certainly didn’t help ourselves.”
Steinbrenner’s Olivia Unger made a 3-pointer to cut Harmony’s lead to 42-40 with 6.0 seconds left, but the Warriors were forced to foul, allowing Fitzpatrick to close out the game at the free throw line.
In the final minute, the Longhorns were 8-for-8 at the free line.
Fitzpatrick finished with 13 points to lead Harmony (26-3), which advanced to its first state final four.
Unger led Steinbrenner with 10 points while Tiffani Brazell added nine points.
Harmony made four of its five 3-pointers in the final seven minutes of the game.
“(Harmony) did a great job of going down there and running their stuff and getting what they wanted,” Allen said. “They’re a drive and kick team and we knew that going in.”
6A-3: Barron Collier ousts Armwood 47-40
NAPLES — The Armwood girls basketball team’s dream season came to an end Saturday.
Playing in their first region championship since 2000, the Hawks lost to Barron Collier, 47–40, the Class 6A-Region 3 final.
Armwood, which entered the game ranked fifth in the 6A state poll, ended the season 26–5.
Senior guard Kiana King led Armwood with 13 points while freshman Alyssa Nieves added 10.
Armwood trailed by four with three minutes left in the fourth quarter but allowed the Cougars to close out the game at the free throw line.
Barron Collier (21-7), the No. 9-ranked team in 6A, lead 22–13 at halftime.
“(Barron Collier) came out with a lot of energy,” said Armwood coach Patrick Kelly. “They played hard and they matched our energy, and them playing at a higher energy level, it took us a little time to adjust to that.”
5A-2: Land O’ Lakes reach final four
INVERNESS — The Land O’ Lakes High girls basketball team scored four late points Saturday night to earn a trip to the final four Friday in Lakeland.
Lela Gregory scored on an inbounds play under the basket with nine seconds left and Makayla Canada hit two free throws with three seconds left to give the Gators a 40-37 victory against Citrus in the Class 5A-Region 2 final.
The Gators (23-4) will face Bradenton Southeast at The Lakeland Center. Citrus finished the season at 25-4.
Jhade Hayes led the scoring with 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds before fouling out with 27 seconds left. Taylor McDonald had nine points, nine rebounds and nine blocked shots for Land O’ Lakes.
Canada had nine points and four steals for the winning team.
Citrus was shorter but proved to be a very pesky defensive opponent, forcing the Gators into 20 turnovers in a very physical defensive battle.
Shally Morales led Citrus with 14 points. She hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter when Citrus led 12-6.
The Gators coach was relieved to win the nailbiter.
“I’m ecstatic,’’ said Land O’ Lakes coach Phyllis Crain. “Both were great teams. Both coaches are defensive-minded and you can see that. It was a dogfight to the end. I’m just so proud of my team. They worked hard and kept digging.”
Hayes scored seven points in the third quarter to lead her team offensively.
“I’m just so happy that we are going to state,’’ said Hayes. “They (Citrus) gave us a fight. I’m very happy.”