LUTZ — Steinbrenner’s 12-game win streak entering the Class 7A playoffs belied some vulnerabilities, namely free-throw shooting and efficiency against tight man pressure.
On a surreal night on the Warriors’ floor, St. Petersburg exploited those weaknesses and exited with a first-round postseason stunner.
The Green Devils (13-10) broke out early in overtime, then held off the hosts in a free-throw shooting duel down the stretch for a 42-39 triumph. St. Pete plays at Clearwater on Tuesday.
“We’re young and we finally picked a night to grow up,” said Green Devils coach Tamika Coley, who started two freshmen, a sophomore and two seniors. “All season we’ve played ball for like, 24 minutes …and then we have a mental lapse. We played hard for 32 minutes plus four.”
Down by as many as five in the first half, St. Pete clawed back to tie the score after three quarters and fought through five fourth-quarter lead changes. Employing a man defense in the second half, the Devils held 6-foot guard Bailey Hooker, who had eight first-half points, to only two after intermission.
But the guests couldn’t pull away. Warriors freshman Rachel Briere, who scored all seven of her team’s fourth-quarter points, tied things at 33-all on two free throws with 51.5 seconds to play. Steinbrenner (22-3) had made only one of its previous eight free throws.
“The last two days, I made a concentrated effort to make sure each girl made 50 free throws before they left, figuring there was going to be a game somewhere that might get us,” Warriors coach JR Allen said. “And lo and behold, tonight …”
The Devils took a 38-35 lead in overtime on senior Danielle Daniels’ transition layup and freshman Michael Everhart’s 3-pointer.
Steinbrenner cut its deficit to two, but Deja Swinton’s two free throws with 27.5 seconds to go made it 42-38. A travel whistle thwarted the Warriors’ final possession.