VALRICO — Whether it was big-game jitters or the pressure of vying for a fourth consecutive playoff appearance, Riverview started Wednesday’s Class 8A, District 7 semifinal with uncharacteristic sloppiness.
“I think we were just playing a bit tight,” coach Gerard Batista said.
Once his Sharks finally loosened up, they pulled away.
Riverview overcame an 11-point second-half deficit to cruise into the playoffs with a 61-50 win over Alonso at Bloomingdale.
The Sharks (14-7) advance to Friday’s district title game against Plant (17-11) after the Panthers’ dominant 47-30 win over top-seeded Wharton in the other semifinal.
Riverview’s slow start nearly derailed its playoff hopes. The Sharks turned the ball over five times in the first three and a half minutes against Alonso (12-14).
And defensively, Riverview had no answer for Ravens shooters Angel Golden and Jessica Warren, who combined for 28 of their team’s 30 first-half points.
Back-to-back buckets by Golden gave Alonso a 40-31 lead midway through the third. That’s when Riverview finally recovered.
Asia Royster cut for a layup. Jazmine Washington scored on a fast break and converted a three-point play. Kierra Haywood pitched in three more points, and Royster’s bucket off a steal capped an 11-0 momentum-seizing run.
By the time Haywood’s steal and layup gave the Sharks a 49-44 heading into the fourth quarter, Alonso’s fate seemed sealed.
“I think she’s the best big in the county,” Batista said of Haywood, who finished with 24 points and 15 rebounds.
The Sharks pulled away in the fourth quarter thanks to a swarming defense. Alonso finished the quarter with more turnovers (seven) than points (six).
Royster (15) and Washington (13) both finished in double figures for Riverview. Golden led Alonso with 24 points.
Plant had little trouble toppling Wharton (12-12) in the other matchup. The Panthers forced eight turnovers in the first quarter and used a 16-1 run midway through the game to seal their 10th playoff appearance in the last 11 seasons.
Payton Paro finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and five steals for Plant, and sophomore Deja Turner chipped in 12 points, too. Shantell Wells led Wharton with nine points and 14 rebounds.
Plant and Riverview split their previous two meetings in games decided by a combined five points.
Matt Baker can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.