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There are moments throughout a season that define the direction of a team. For St. Petersburg Catholic, that moment came Jan. 12.
The Barons were hosting Academy of the Holy Names and trailed by 13 points at halftime. Instead of panicking, they chipped away at the lead to win 47-45.
“That was the game where they started believing in themselves,’’ SPC coach Nick Vandewalle said. “It was the first game where they thought, ‘Oh my goodness, we’re down.’ And they proved to themselves that they can come back.’’
Since that night, the Barons have won 10 of 11 games and are one win from advancing to the Class 3A state semifinals in Lakeland. Standing in their way is defending state champ Community School of Naples.
A big reason for the Barons’ success (25-4) has been Annie Artise, who averages 13 points per game and is a huge 3-point threat. But teams can’t just focus on Artise.
Brittney Dunbar gets 12 points per game and was key in the region semifinals against Indian Rocks Christian. Michelle Halapio chips in 11 points a game and plays tenacious defense. Katie Gibbons averages eight points.
“Annie has certainly been big for us,’’ Vandewalle said. “But it’s not just her. One night it could be Brittney, the next night Michelle, the next night Katie. One of those four players has led us in scoring at one time this season.
“But the real key for us are players who don’t get their names in the newspaper. Players like Madison (Saganowich) and Christy (Lyons). They push everyone in practice, set the picks, open up the lanes for the other players to score. Teams have to have players like that to be successful.’’
There are seven seniors on the St. Petersburg Catholic roster. Several underclassmen also see playing time, which means the Barons have enough depth to stay with most teams. It also allows Vandewalle to play a pressing full-court defense and an aggressive offense.
That defense was on full display in the district final. The Barons held Indian Rocks Christian to just four second-half points, none in the fourth quarter, for a comeback win.
Clearly, that kind of effort is needed against Community School (19-6). The Seahawks have won their past four games by an average of 28 points and have scored no fewer than 45 points.
The Barons’ strategy is pretty simple.
“We’ll probably end up throwing the kitchen sink at them,’’ Vandewalle said.
Class 5A region final
Who: Lakewood (19-10) at Titusville (18-6)
When: 7 Saturday night
How they advanced: Lakewood d. Robinson 63-8; d. Bradenton Southeast 57-48. Titusville d. Lakeland Tenoroc 62-17; d. Orlando Lake Nona 63-47
Notable: Titusville advanced to the state semifinals last season but graduated eight players from that team. Vyonna Prince is the Terriers’ main scoring threat, scoring 22 against Lake Nona. Titusville has won six straight games.
Since a loss to Palm Harbor University in the regular-season finale, Lakewood has won five straight. Guard Alexis Ungro returned after a one-game suspension and scored 11 against Bradenton Southeast. The defending Class 4A state champ has won eight straight postseason games dating to last season. Lakewood coach Necole Tunsil will join the team late Saturday. She is attending a wake in Lake City for her aunt and will drive from there to Titusville in the afternoon.
Final word: “We are peaking at the right time, no doubt,’’ Tunsil said. “That’s the same thing that happened with us last year.’’