DOVER — Steinbrenner hit 13 fourth-quarter free throws to hold off a charging Strawberry Crest and advance to the Class 7A region finals — the school’s first appearance in the final eight teams.
“I have to give all the credit to my kids. They were tough tonight the whole way out. They rode the highs, they stayed the lows, and they came out victorious,” Steinbrenner coach JR Allen said.
With the win, the Warriors (26-3) avenged an earlier loss to the Chargers. They held Strawberry Crest (25-5) to its lowest point total of the season.
The Warriors raced out to a 14-6 lead in the first quarter after Taylor Thigpen hit two 3-point shots and Rachel Briere scored four points.
Olivia Unger hit a 3-point shot at the buzzer — her second of the quarter — to end the second half, vaulting her team to a 29-16 halftime lead. When Steinbrenner came out in the third quarter, it scored the first two points to open the largest lead of the night. They then put the ball in the hands of Unger, Tiffani Brazell and Nicole Dorsey, and they weaved near half court to drain the clock.
The tactic forced Strawberry Crest to pick up its pace, and the team outscored the Warriors 11-6 in the third quarter, but Steinbrenner maintained a 35-27 lead.
Steinbrenner continued its three-person ball handling the rest of the game, forcing Strawberry Crest to foul. Steinbrenner made one field goal in and converted 13 of 21 foul shots in the fourth quarter.
Aliyah Gregory of Strawberry Crest led all scorers with 19; while Briere scored 15 for the Warriors.
6A-3: Armwood eases into final
SEFFNER — After the first eight minutes of Tuesday night’s region semifinal, Armwood already had sealed its place in the region finals.
Armwood held visiting Dixie Hollins scoreless in the first quarter and cruised to a 55-40 victory in the Class 6A Region 3 semifinals, advancing to the region championship for the first time since 2000.
Armwood, the fifth-ranked team in the 6A state poll, will play at Naples Barron Collier in the region championship on Saturday for a trip to the state final four.
Armwood (26-4) led 26-0 at the end of the first quarter and did not allow Dixie Hollins to score until two-and-a-half minutes into the second. The Hawks led 32-8 at halftime.
“Defense has been what we’ve talked about all season,” Armwood coach Patrick Kelly said. “We know we’re not the most gifted shooters in the world, but we know if we come out with defensive intensity, we truly believe we can play with anybody, and when you’re hitting shots, that’s how you see a 26-0 first quarter.”
Dixie Hollins (17-6) entered the game averaging 51 points per game and senior guard Meagan Thomas averaging 26.4 points per game, the fourth-highest scoring average in Florida girls basketball this season. Thomas scored four points in the second quarter but still finished with 23 points, hounded most the night by sophomore Cyann Fox.
“That’s been her role all season,” Kelly said. “On a team, everybody has a job. Not everybody is a scorer. We said ‘your job is defense.’ We told her this is your assignment tonight, to harass her and make her job tough, and that’s what she did.”
Senior Kiana King led Armwood with 19 points, while Trumeeyka Hawkins added 13 points.
5A-2: Land O’ Lakes finally back in final
LAND O’ LAKES — The last time Land O’ Lakes reached a region final was in 2011, when the Gators fell to Leesburg 61-49.
A return trip is now on tap for the Gators, as they used stifling defense and a strong low post game to defeat Brooksville Nature Coast 46-40 in a Class 5A-Region 2 semifinal Tuesday night. Land O’ Lakes will travel north Saturday to take on Inverness Citrus, which defeated Gainesville Eastside 42-30.
“Defense is the key, I believe,” Land O’ Lakes coach Phyllis Crain said. “My big kid Taylor (McDonald) stepped up big tonight and made some big shots. That was the big difference was her converting in there, and we’re a different team. It’s a big step for us. We haven’t been to this point since I got here three years ago.”
After shooting four of 12 (33 percent) in the opening quarter and not getting much consistency during the second period, Land O’ Lakes (22-4) came out of intermission looking to create some separation from Nature Coast (20-5). The Gators went on an 8-2 run to end the third period, which was capped by a layup from guard Pamela Andrade (six points), and were up 33-23 heading into the final period.
Land O’ Lakes’ largest lead got to 37-23 early in the fourth quarter, but Nature Coast started chipping away at the deficit and got to within 43-37 with less than three minutes left in the game. The Gators, though, received some clutch free throws from Jhade Hayes (nine points, seven rebounds) and Makala Canada (nine points) down the stretch to clinch the win. Gators center Taylor McDonald led all scorers with 20 points and snagged seven rebounds.
4A-3: Holy Names shooters bury TC
TAMPA — Academy of the Holy Names has shot well from the free-throw line all season, but in the Class 4A-Region-3 semifinal against Tampa Catholic, the Jaguars were off the hook.
On 25 attempts from the line, AHN made 22, including 19 of 21 in the fourth quarter, a total that ultimately buried the Crusaders with a final score of 55-42.
The hottest free-throw shooter? That was Jaguar Ashley McWilliams, who made 12 of 13 foul shots to finish with a team-high 14 points.
“I knew (TC) was going to try and stop me, so I had to find a way to get my points,” McWilliams said. “Every time I go to the line I say, ‘Just like practice, just like practice.’ I really didn’t feel nervous.”
Through the first half, the game stayed relatively tight, with AHN (21-8) taking a 21-14 lead into halftime. TC (17-13) cut the gap to 33-27 early in the fourth quarter but never got closer down the stretch as the Jaguars continued making their foul shots.
In the three previous meetings between the rivals this season, TC won twice, but on Tuesday, AHN had a nearly flawless effort, particularly on defense.
“We made a change from a 1-3-1 zone to a 2-3 zone, and maybe that little element of surprise had an effect,” AHN coach Chris Severini said. “But then there is only so much surprise you can gain in a 2-3 zone.”
AHN’s Cristina Snyder followed McWilliams with 10 points, while TC’s Alise Davis led her team with 14.
3A-2: Whiting leads Seffner Christian rout
SEFFNER — Sabrina Whiting scored 22 points, leading Seffner Christian Academy to a 65-29 victory against Fort Meade in a Class 3A-Region 2 semifinal.
Peyton Walker added 15 points and Sara Denny finished with 13 for the Crusaders (24-5), who eliminated the Miners 62-19 last season in a region quarterfinal.
Quinika Williams scored 14 to lead Fort Meade (20-8). The Miners were without starters Jameka Williams and Deja Windham, who were suspended from school Tuesday.
The teams were deadlocked late in the first quarter, but the Crusaders allowed only four more points en route to a 44-11 halftime lead.
Seffner Christian, in pursuit of its first state championship, has won its four postseason games by an average of 50 points. The Crusaders are one victory shy of reaching the state semifinals for the third time in four years.
“The scoreboard may not show it, but we did have a bad game tonight,” said Whiting, the school’s career scoring leader with more than 2,000 points.
Coach Greg Fawbush took most of the blame for looking past Fort Meade to the region title game at Mount Dora Bible.
“We don’t want to say we knew we’d win tonight,” he said, “but we’ve been game-planning for Friday more than maybe what I should have.”
2A-2: Young ATL team cruises past Keswick
LAND O’ LAKES — Coach Karim Nohra is puppy training.
Despite another blowout win — this time 68-36 against Keswick Christian to send Academy at the Lakes (21-5) to its fourth straight region final — Nohra was still coaching with intensity, even after the Wildcats got a running clock with 5:15 left in the third quarter.
“They’re young and still make mistakes they were making in November, and when they make those mistakes, I call timeout, Nohra said. “I use these games as an opportunity to still teach and coach so they get it right.”
The Wildcats used an impressive first quarter to get a 34-5 lead thanks to a 29-0 run and 15-of-20 shooting. Academy let the Crusaders (21-9) grab a quick 3-pointer to start the game, but then ran the table, despite being outscored 18-17 in the second quarter.
Freshman Imani Thomas led Academy with 20 points in just three quarters, while eighth-graders Audra Leipold scored 16 and Taylor Polasky added 14 points, including three 3-pointers.
“They’re puppies, though they can play, but they’re still learning the entire system and defense,” Nohra added. “That’s what happens when they’re very young.”
The Crusaders were led by Bekah Baxter, who had eight points, including two 3-pointers.