TAMPA — For 31/2 quarters Thursday, Plant had its way with Clearwater.
Every time Clearwater managed to inch closer, Plant was able to scoot away. But when it counted the most, not only were the Tornadoes able to inch closer, they got past the Panthers.
Clearwater’s Emma Loucks made a layup with 30 seconds left and Plant missed out on a last-second shot as the Tornadoes held on for a 50-49 win in the championship game of the Jaguar Holiday Tournament.
“The kids just hung tough,” said Clearwater coach Tom Shaneyfelt. “We encouraged them to hang in there. We’ve rallied before so they knew they were in the game.”
After the Panthers jumped out to an eight-point first-quarter lead, Clearwater managed to scrap just enough to hang in the game. Plant keyed on Clearwater’s Loucks and Tyra Bolden but after the Panthers’ seven-point lead vanished in the second half, it was Tornadoes freshman Alex Alford who made the biggest impact.
Alford scored 17 of her game-high 23 in the second quarter as Clearwater rallied.
With 4:50 remaining and Plant clinging to a 47-43 lead, Clearwater made its move — outscoring the Panthers 7-2 the rest of way, including a key 3-pointer from Alford.
Once Clearwater took the lead on a Loucks layup, Plant had a last possession but couldn’t get a shot off before the buzzer.
“Clearwater is an excellent team,” said Plant coach Carrie Mahon. “They were able to exploit us some defensively. We gave it a good effort but didn’t do enough.”