NEW PORT RICHEY — Gulf has been a traditional power over the years, coming on especially strong of late. The Buccaneers have defended their district title for consecutive seasons while competing against and defeating the area’s best.
Pasco has been viewed as the bottom-dweller, struggling to find its identity and laboring to be respected against its district rival. The Pirates’ confidence was booming coming into Friday night’s district matchup on a five-game winning streak.
“They want to come out and compete and they want to be in the upper echelon now,” Pasco coach Troy Moore said. “They’re ready to compete for the top spot in the district.”
Both squads are considered first and second respectively in Class 5A, District 8, with the winner taking sole possession of the top spot.
While Pasco may be improved, Gulf showed it is still the area’s best team, defeating the Pirates 68-57.
“Pasco has done a phenomenal job the last three years of turning the program around, and their kids are playing hard,” Gulf coach Mike Quarto said.
Down 21-8 in the second quarter, Pasco showed poise and got the score to within two as Gulf had no answer for Ashley Webster and her presence in the paint. Webster scored a game-high 23, 20 of them in the low post.
Gulf (17-2, 12-0) went into the locker room up 36-28 but disappointed with its first-half performance.
“Coach talked to us at halftime and we told him, ‘We want this, we’re going after it, and we’re not letting anyone take it from us,’ ” Lexy Shulman said. “We knew we had to step it up and we know we can play so much better than that.”
The Buccaneers gradually built a 52-40 lead in the third quarter with Shulman dishing out passes to Kayla Kivinski (22) and Kadejah Saunders (20).
Free throws and turnovers derailed any shot Pasco (17-2, 9-2) had at a comeback. The Pirates went to the line 16 times and came away with only four points.
“Free throws were the Achilles heel tonight,” Moore said. “If we make some free throws and execute the offense, it’s a different ball game.”