TAMPA — Nothing went as expected Wednesday at Steinbrenner. Freedom, the No. 2 seed, lost 63-59 to Wiregrass Ranch, and top-seeded Chamberlain barely held off Steinbrenner 78-71. The Chiefs led by two in the third quarter then again in the fourth. The Bulls and the Chiefs will play Friday for the 7A-9 title.
In the first game, Freedom looked as if it would cruise to an easy victory, leading 16-9. But Wiregrass Ranch stormed back in the second quarter thanks to a couple of 3-pointers from Chris Parra (13 points) and Larrentz Manora (11). Manora’s 3 capped a 15-5 run and the Patriots headed into the locker room at halftime down 28-25.
Freedom’s Stephen Odunna (12 points, seven rebounds) started the third quarter on a tear, grabbing offensive rebounds and tying the score at 31. However, Wiregrass senior Ricky Ramirez went toe-to-toe with Odunna’s effort, hustling after loose balls and playing gritty defense.
“I wanted to come in and give the team the energy they needed, focus on rebounding and get the job done,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez finished with 12 points and six rebounds. The Wiregrass fullcourt press started to pay off in the fourth quarter, ringing up steals and easy baskets. Freedom’s Antwan Bradley led all scorers with 27 and kept his team in the game during the fourth quarter. But eventually the 17 turnovers caught up with the Patriots. Wiregrass’ Rico Kerney made all his free throws down the stretch.
Chamberlain came out big in the first quarter and led 37-19. Steinbrenner cut the lead to eight just before the half and then to two in the third quarter as John Marc Carrier got a steal and coast-to-coast layup to cap an 11-0 run. However, the Chiefs slammed the door in the fourth as senior Reggie Hart (33 points, six rebounds) started to heat up.
“I was kind of scared at the end; they’re a good team and they kept coming back,” Hart said. “But once we got our heads back in the game, I feel like we stepped it up.”
Steinbrenner’s Keshawn Ingram hit two 3-pointers and was fouled on a third attempt, after which he converted all three free throws. He finished with 29 points.
6A-10: Mitchell nearly squanders lead, survives big game from James
TRINITY — In a pair of frantic finishes Wednesday, top seeds Mitchell and Land O’Lakes earned victories in the District 6A-10 semifinals and will meet for the title Friday.
Host Mitchell almost blew a 17-point lead to River Ridge, which got a career-high 32 from Mikey James, but held on for a 64-59 win. The night began with Land O’Lakes pulling out a tight-throughout 48-46 defeat of Tarpon Springs.
Knowing a playoff berth was at stake both head coaches went with a whatever-it-takes mentality. For Mitchell that meant taking the air out of the ball early, which nearly backfired.
For Land O’Lakes it meant the game might not be the prettiest to watch.
“We’ll win ugly. The sloppier, the better because we’re not the best offensive team,” said Gators coach David Puhalski, whose group got just enough timely shooting to win. Sophomore Tom Guglielmello sank a 3-pointer with 1:10 left to give the Gators a 47-45 lead.
Tarpon senior T.J. Aguilar (15 points) had a chance to tie it but his shot was off the mark with 30 seconds left. The Spongers were unable to foul until nine ticks remained and Guglielmello hit 1-of-2 at the line. The Spongers (12-12) added a free throw in the closing seconds, missed intentionally but could not get the rebound.
Wednesday’s contest saw 12 lead changes in the second half alone. Neither side led by more than five. Brandon Dorsey had 15 points, eight in the fourth quarter, and fellow sophomore Mike Obi added 12 points and seven boards for Land O’Lakes (11-11).
River Ridge (11-15) had top seed Mitchell motivated thanks to a recent win over the Mustangs. And it showed: Bernie Conley popped in 12 first-half points as nine Mustangs scored and it was 41-25 at half.
The lead got up to 46-29 midway through the third before River Ridge heated up, going on a 7-0 run to end the quarter — and starting a stretch where the Knights went 11-of-12 from the floor.
Mitchell (19-7) started working the clock early in the fourth.
“At this time of year I don’t care if you win by 30 or by one,” said Mitchell coach Jared St. Charles. “We knew they’d make a run and when they did, we didn’t want them to speed us up. We made enough free throws.”
Mitchell made its first eight in the quarter. But James had two late 3s to cut the margin to 62-59 with 11 seconds left. Mitchell’s Sean Thompson iced it with foul shots and was 7-for-8 in the quarter.
Conley led the Mustangs with 17 points. After getting held to one first-half point 6-foot-8 Knights center John Childs finished with 11 and several comeback-aiding blocks.
5A-7: Scrappy Sharks come away with win
EUSTIS — Top-seeded Nature Coast overcame a five-point deficit in the fourth quarter to defeat No. 4 seed Tavares 52-48 Wednesday night in the District 5A-7 semifinals, advancing to the championship game Friday against second-seeded Eustis.
“Definitely credit Tavares,” Sharks coach Dave Pisarcik said. “A top-four team was capable of beating anybody in this tournament. They did a good job pushing us to the limit, but we never stopped believing and that helped us out. We accomplished our goal of making the playoffs and we look forward to the next game.”
In the fourth quarter with the score tied at 39, Coy Patterson made a layup to put the Bulldogs ahead 41-39 then three consecutive free throws gave Tavares its biggest lead at 44-39.
But Rohan Blackwood (12 points, seven rebounds) converted a layup to bring the Sharks (23-3) within three. Yamil Marrero (11 points, seven rebounds) later cut the margin to two points.
Carlos Clemente’s 3-pointer gave Nature Coast a 46-45 lead. Telvin Blunt answered right back for Tavares with a 3-pointer. Free throws tied the game at 48.
Blackwood then went to the basket and scored on a layup with 48 seconds left that was the eventual winner.
“I knew I had to stick through it and I was looking for it,” Blackwood said.
Nature Coast shot 13-for-34 at the free-throw line.
Center Sam Mazzia came off the bench and provided a lift for the Sharks with seven points.
“I was very happy,” Mazzia said. “Rohan kept feeding me because they were trapping on the high post.”
In the other semifinal, Eustis overwhelmed Hernando 72-54.
The Leopards (18-8) overcame a 15-point deficit to close within four after a 3-pointer from Jeff Velasquez, but the Panthers pulled away after that. Mark Wilson led the Leopards with 18 points.
“Too many of the same mistakes hurt us,” Hernando coach Mark Latsko said. “We did get the most wins out of any Hernando team in the last 10 years.”
Correspondents Darek Sharp and Joe Kornecki III contributed to this report.