LAKELAND — For Tampa Catholic’s two starting seniors, the 13.9 seconds that separated Colette Eule and Sarah Brennan from ending their high school careers with a state championship seemed like eternity.
The Crusaders’ run-and-gun thwarted by Orlando Bishop Moore in the Class 3A title game at the Lakeland Center on Thursday afternoon, Tampa Catholic was undoubtedly out of its comfort zone. Clinging to a one-point lead and the Hornets with the final possession, the Crusaders’ chance at winning their first state crown came down to one stop.
The physical game played out to the final second, as Bishop Moore had four chances to score inside on its final possession but couldn’t convert — or get a foul call — before the final buzzer, leaving players from both sides looking around for an ending.
The cue came not from the officials or the scoreboard, but from the Tampa Catholic bench, which rushed the court, convincing the Crusaders players a 43-42 victory was theirs.
“That was probably the longest 13 seconds of my life,” Brennan said. “I just kept thinking we were fouling them. And when I heard the whistle blowing, I thought it meant we were fouling them. I didn’t know that the game was over. The whole thing was in slow motion.”
For Eule and Brennan, the pair of 1,000-point scorers who helped build the program into a state contender, it was their 100th victory at Tampa Catholic — and undoubtedly the biggest in program history.
“This was it for us,” Eule said. “We wanted to end our season like this. There’s no better way to end a season.”
Tampa Catholic (30-2) became the first Hillsborough County school to win a state girls basketball championship since 1996, when Holy Names won the Class 2A title.
“We are the best today,” Crusaders coach Nancy Kroll said. “It’s a great feeling.”
Much like the early December regular-season meeting, the Hornets (24-8) slowed a Crusaders offense that averaged more than 65 points a game to a season-low point total.
“They did a really good job of slowing us down and making us uncomfortable,” point guard Meghan Keough said. “It kind of took us out of our zone and what we’re used to.”
Tampa Catholic shot just 28.9 percent from the field, made just 1-of-15 3-point attempts and was outrebounded 50-32, but rallied several times.
The Crusaders trailed 18-15 at the half, then mounted a 15-5 run to open a game-high seven-point lead, 30-23, in the third. But Bishop Moore rallied to take a 36-32 lead at the beginning of the fourth period.
Led by Eule, who scored a team-high 18 (and was 7-for-7 from the free-throw line), the Crusaders owned the final four minutes. Eule scored six of TC’s final 10 points, including 4-for-4 from the line.
“Today’s game, the way it went, it was a game of runs,” Eule said. “Usually we’re the team that goes on runs.”
Brennan had a double double with 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Kai Jones added 10 rebounds.