VALRICO – The top two scorers in Class 8A-7 girls basketball elevated their play for the postseason Wednesday night. The top two teams went down.
In the first district semifinal, Riverview senior Kierra Haywood had 24 points to lead a 61-50 victory against No. 2 seed Alonso. Asia Royster scored 15 and Jazmine Washington added 14 to help the Sharks advance to Friday’s title game.
Angel Golden, the district’s leading scorer, had 24 points to pace Alonso. Jessica Warren and D’Asia James finished with 12 and 10, respectively, for the Ravens.
Alonso built a 40-29 advantage with a 10-2 run to open the second half. Riverview produced all but four of the next 24 points.
In the late game, Deja Turner and Payton Paro each scored 12 points for Plant en route to a 47-30 upset of regular-season champion Wharton.
The teams exchanged the lead five times. Freshman Caroline Cumby put the Panthers ahead for good with a shot from long range late in the first quarter.
Finalists Plant and Riverview split a pair of close regular-season matchups.
7A-8: Wiregrass hangs on to top Freedom
LUTZ — A would-be tying 3-pointer sailed over the rim at the buzzer and No. 2 seed Wiregrass Ranch held on to a 49-46 win over third-seeded Freedom in the Class 7A-District 8 tournament semifinals on Wednesday.
The Bulls advanced to Friday’s championship game against top-seeded Steinbrenner, which defeated Sickles, 42-31, in the other semifinal.
“To get a win and be in the top two in this district is huge,” said Wiregrass Ranch coach John Grant, whose program will make its third regional appearance. “This is one of the best districts in the state. We all have 19 or 20 wins.”
Wiregrass Ranch led 39-30 with just under five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but sent Freedom to the free throw line nine times in the ensuing three minutes, but the Patriots only made six of 16 attempts. Still, Freedom cut the lead to 47-43, and with 5.8 seconds left, Freedom’s Nari Garner hit a three-pointer to make it a three point game. Freedom’s Taylor Emery forced a jump ball to win possession, but a last-second 3 fell short of the rim.
Sophomore guard Beliz Esen led the Bulls (26-2) with 10 points. Emery finished with 17 points while Garner had 13 points.
Steinbrenner, the 10th-ranked team in 7A state poll, will play in the district final for the third consecutive season.
Senior guard Taylor Thigpen and junior forward Rachel Briere each had 10 points for the Warriors (23-2). Kassidy Girdler led Sickles, which was held to two points in the third quarter, with 11 points.
“We don’t shoot the ball very well and it’s not secret,” said Steinbrenner coach J.R. Allen. “We don’t hang our hats on our offense all year and we’re not about to start to. We have a hard time scoring but at the end of the day, we lock people up and we play good (defense).”
6A-9: Armwood, Hillsborough advance
SEFFNER — Hillsborough had to hold off a late Jefferson rally, while Armwood cruised to a big win over Lennard to advance both teams to Friday’s Class 6A-9 district final.
The Terriers opened up a 12-point lead at halftime on Jefferson, but the Dragons didn’t go quietly, outscoring their opponent in the second half before Hillsborough squeaked out a 32-29 win. The win puts the Terriers into the region tournament for the first time in five years.
Guard Khoi Wilson led all scorers with 12 points for Hillsborough (17-10) and said she expected the game to be a tough one after splitting with Jefferson (19-8) in two games during the regular season.
“Both teams really wanted it, and it came down to who wanted it the most,” Wilson said. “Every time we face them it’s a fight, so we knew what to expect.”
Jada Roberson had nine points for Hillsborough, while Jefferson got seven points each from Toni Cox and Tatianna Burton.
In the late semifinal, host and top seed Armwood pulled away from Lennard in the second quarter and never looked back as the Hawks won 56-15. Senior guard Tori Henderson had 15 points to lead Armwood (23-4), and senior forward Keaundra Ivory added 13 points. Tianna Garnett led Lennard (11-12) with eight points.
Hawks leading scorer Kiana King was again out of the lineup with a bruised shoulder suffered in a scrimmage, but coach Patrick Kelly said he expected King back for the district final.
Armwood advanced to the district final for the first time since it won the title in 2006.
6A-10: Mitchell overpowers Osceola
TRINITY — Thanks to a dominating inside game, the Mitchell Mustangs are headed to the postseason for the fourth year in a row. Visiting Osceola had no answer for the inside duo of Ashley Lewis and Alani Alexander, and the Mustangs cruised to a 38-25 victory in the 6A-10 semifinal.
Both teams started out cold, and the Warriors led 6-3 late in the first period until a Payton Murchie layup cut the lead to the 6-5 going into the second period.
The second quarter was all Mitchell. Two baskets by sophomore Mickey Sherrill sandwiched around a 3-point play by Kelly Oliver led the Mustangs to a 9-0 burst and gave them a 14-6 lead going into halftime. Sherrill and Oliver have been key contributors with the absence of injured starters Hannah Kriston and Regan Petika.
The third period is where Lewis and Alexander took over. Lewis was unstoppable in the paint for the Mustangs, scoring 14 points, and Alexander cleaned up on the boards. She had 10 rebounds in the game, with eight in the second half. Mitchell opened up its biggest lead of the game midway through the fourth period, 36-20.
“Those two were huge for us.” said Mitchell coach Jacob Tavo. “Ashley is so physically gifted. She plays year-round, so she’s always working on her game. She’ll play at the next level.”
Mitchell will travel to St. Petersburg to take on Dixie Hollins in the 6A-10 championship game Friday night.
5A-8: Gulf squeaks into final vs. LOL
NEW PORT RICHEY — Gulf and Land O’ Lakes will meet in Friday’s Class 5A-District 8 championship, and the Gators reached the title game by the narrowest of margins.
With Land O’ Lakes up 41-39 with less than 10 seconds remaining, River Ridge got off several quality shots, but was not able to tie the game. The Gators received a strong shooting night from Pamela Andrade en route to an exciting 41-39 district semifinal at the Bever-Hicks Center.
“River Ridge came to fight,” Land O’ Lakes coach Phyllis Crain said. “My kids fought. Two kids fouled out, but we calmed down. They wanted it from their heart.”
Land O’ Lakes (21-3) opened the game on an 11-2 run, in which it looked like the Gators might be able to take total control. Andrade (15 points) started off hot, knocking down her first five shots of the game. River Ridge (19-8) battled back with 3-pointers throughout the second period and went into intermission down 23-17 despite shooting 5-of-16 (31 percent) in the first half. The Gators made 10 of 18 (55 percent) from the field.
River Ridge inched itself closer and tied the game at 30 on a layup by Leah Ford (16 points) late in the third quarter. The Royal Knights seemingly tied the game at 41 when Kayle Stark (10 points) put in a layup with 7.7 seconds left, but offcials said River Ridge asked for a timeout before the basket was scored.
In the earlier semifinal, Gulf was able to cruise by Tarpon Springs 55-35. The Buccaneers had a sizable lead throughout and were paced by Kayla Kivnski’s 26 points.
5A-7: Webster helps Pasco advance to final
DADE CITY — Ashley Webster scored 16 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and had three steals, leading Pasco (18-9) to its third consecutive trip to the region tournament by taking care of Hernando, 42-34, in the 5A-District 7 semifinals.
The Leopards (16-10) held Pirates leading scorer Brianca Roberts off the scoreboard in the first half, taking a 19-15 lead into the break.
Hernando extended its lead to 25-19, but a 13-0 run by the Pirates gave Pasco a 32-25 lead through three quarters. Roberts scored 12 of her 15 points in the deciding third quarter, as the Pirates advanced to the district finals.
“That was the turning point of the game,” Pasco coach Troy Moore said of the third-quarter run, “It seemed like we were playing on pins and needles in the first half, but we settled down in the second half and played our game. We applied some pressure and got some easy baskets because of it.”
In the earlier semifinal, Nature Coast Tech (19-3) jumped out to a 13-0 lead against Central (13-13) and never looked back, cruising to a 65-49 victory.
Rita Jarque was dominant for the Sharks, scoring 31 points while grabbing 18 boards and recording four steals.