TAMPA — Two teams ranked in Class 7A — Clearwater and Wiregrass Ranch — reeled off decisive victories Thursday in the opening round of the Jaguar Holiday girls basketball tournament that puts them on the road to a possible showdown in Saturday's championship game.
The fifth-ranked Tornadoes (17-0) remained unbeaten with a 40-26 win over Hillsborough (10-6). Wiregrass Ranch, ranked seventh, improved to 17-1 with a 58-42 win over Gulf (12-2).
In the other games, Plant beat Academy at the Lakes 54-40 and host Academy of the Holy Names beat Tampa Prep 56-23. So Clearwater will meet Holy Names and Wiregrass Ranch will play Plant in semis tonight.
Wiregrass Ranch led Gulf 39-37 before pulling away with a 19-5 fourth quarter. It marked the Bulls' second win over the Buccaneers this season.
"I think we were a little sluggish after the break, but we had a good fourth quarter," Bulls coach John Gant said. "We did what we had to do to win the game."
Amanda Melosky led the Bulls with 20 points, and Stephanie Brower had 18. Gulf got 20 from Kayla Kivinski and Ali Cochrane added 14.
Clearwater got 18 points from Deja Blunt and Madison Rubino scored 15 to offset Hillsborough's Aejona Chambers, who scored a game-high 21.
"It's always good to play in a tournament, because that's going to prepare us for the end of the year," Clearwater coach Paul Lang said.
In a battle between the youngest teams, Plant (10-8) went on a 14-1 run midway through the game to take 32-24 lead over the Wildcats (9-2). The go-ahead basket came off a rebound and layup by Payton Beckles, which gave the Panthers a 24-23 lead at the half. Payton Para led Plant with 17 points and Savannah Walker scored 12.
"It was a very important game for us," Plant coach Carrie Mahon said. "We needed to have a good game against a quality team and we were able to do that tonight."
Lastly, the host Jaguars (10-5) cruised to victory over Tampa Prep (5-5) behind the scoring of Siobhan Lynch and Caroline Kimbler, who had 19 and 17 points, respectively.