CLEARWATER — The result was expected but definitely didn't come easily.
In Tuesday's Class 7A region semifinal, underdog Northeast threw some strong low-post defense against a lethargic Clearwater squad early, then rode effective offensive energy to get the Tornadoes in foul trouble.
Trailing by three midway through the third quarter, the Vikings had visions of an upset but Clearwater pulled itself together to run away with a 54-36 victory.
"It's hard to beat anyone four times in a season, and I knew (Northeast) coach (Will White) would have something planned," said Tornadoes coach Allen Williams.
Double-teaming D'Mya Ferguson in the low post combined with cold outside shooting to keep the Vikings (21-9) in the hunt, trailing 16-15 with 2:50 left in the first half on hard work from Kanesha Hall (nine points and 11 rebounds) and a three-point play from Angel Smith.
Ferguson (10 points and 15 rebounds, 13 offensive) and Olivia Jones (11 points and 10 boards) sat out stretches of the first half with three fouls each.
"We wanted to do something different against them," White said. "If you're going to go out, you want to go out giving your all, leaving it all on the court. I think we were able to do that."
Aggressive rebounding (plus-13 in total rebounds leading to a plus-23 in shot attempts for the game) kept Clearwater (21-2) on top. Then strong defense from Adriana West (six steals) and Alleyah Williams (10 points and seven rebounds) plus resurgent ball-handling of Carrie Lee got the Tornadoes back on track. Scoring the last 10 points of the third quarter and the first two buckets of the fourth created an insurmountable edge for the hosts.
"I think it was frustration," said Lee, who finished with 13 points, 11 of 14 from the free throw line, and eight boards. "We didn't think (Northeast) was going to come out as strong as they did, but we came back and took over."
Hannah Merkel scored eight of her team-high 10 points in the second half for Northeast.
The Tornadoes face a tough battle in Friday's region final when they face Fort Myers in a rematch from last year's playoffs.
"Fort Myers (a deceptive 11-15 due to forfeiting 11 victories because of an ineligible player) has a very, very talented group of guards," Williams said.
"My girls are going to have to play well to beat them."