TAMPA — There weren't too many people that gave Wharton a chance in this week's Class 8A, District 8 girls basketball tournament.
Why would they?
Wharton came into the eight-team tournament seeded sixth and had gone 0-6 in the regular season against the first, second and third seeds — Plant, Wiregrass Ranch and Steinbrenner, respectively.
Then came this week where Wharton (9-12) turned expectations on their head.
In a first-round game Tuesday, the Wildcats knocked off Steinbrenner 35-32, then they followed in Thursday's semifinal with another stunner, this time beating Wiregrass Ranch 53-30 in a game that never was really close.
When asked about the sudden turnaround, Wharton coach Chad Reed said there wasn't any magic dust up his sleeve.
"We've just stayed the course through the season and kept working hard," Reed said. "We've also stayed loose because, hey, we don't have anything to lose. We haven't really changed anything that we do, but I do think we have matured."
Without a doubt, the Wildcats are a tight-knit group, partly because there are only nine girls in the entire Wharton basketball program, and that number includes the varsity and junior varsity. Four of the nine players, by the way, are freshmen.
On Thursday, speedy guard Mecca Bythewood led the way with 17 points, scoring mainly on quick drives and cuts. Senior Regina Henry added 10 points and guards Parker Onderko and Martinique Reddin chipped in nine points apiece.
Now, however, Wharton has its biggest task to date, playing in Friday's final against No. 1 seed Plant, which defeated Freedom 67-27. Panther Alexys Mathangani led all scorers with 16 points, followed by Kendal Cheesman (14), Honor Culpepper (13) and Sydney Johnson (10).
"We look forward to playing Plant," Reed said. "They have a great team and a great coach. We like that challenge."