TAMPA — The semifinal round of the Jaguar Holiday Tournament featured three of the best teams from Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties. And despite only two moving on to the final, all three lived up to the billing.
Plant used its defense and got enough offense Wednesday to turn back Gulf, despite a 27-point performance from standout senior guard Nicole Adams, in a 64-54 victory. In the other semifinal, Clearwater shook off its holiday rust with a strong third-quarter spurt to run past Durant 66-53.
Plant (11-2) will face Clearwater (15-1) at 7 tonight in the tournament title game.
Clearwater led 31-23 to open the second half and got a 3-pointer from Emma Loucks to start a 18-9 run that put the game out of reach. Loucks led the Tornadoes with 15 points. Tyra Bolden added 11 while Anna Egger and Javon McTier each chipped in with 10.
“You always worry about the first game back (after the holiday break),” said Clearwater coach Tom Shaneyfelt. “We were a little rusty and our defensive effort was not special. But we played hard.”
Plant, meanwhile, seemed to be heading toward an easy night after jumping to a 22-11 lead in the opening quarter against Gulf. But behind Adams’ outside shooting and Leighlani Paselio’s (12 points) inside play, the Buccaneers chipped away at the Panthers’ lead.
And after a three-point play by Kayla Kavinski, Gulf trailed just 38-36. But Plant was able to lock down the Gulf offense from that point and created quick-scoring opportunities.
The Panthers got big shots from Kelly Brennan (15 total points) and Nicole Sivyer (10 points) in the fourth quarter to help hold off the Bucs. Rebecca Marve added 11 points for Plant.
“Our halfcourt man-to-man defense saved us,” said Plant coach Carrie Mahon. “They (Gulf) ran their offense off a lot of screens and for the most part we handled it. We wanted to be physical and they had to work hard.
“They’re a good team and they worked for every point.”