TAMPA — As Strawberry Crest played Wiregrass Ranch in a Class 7A region quarterfinal Thursday, a poster-sized pad in the corner of the Chargers’ gymnasium counted down from 16.
Senior guard Aliyah Gregory came into the game with 1,984 points, and with a 3-pointer at the 2:30 mark of the second quarter, the UCF commit became the first Charger to notch 2,000 career points.
But it was another pair of baskets that night that meant a little bit more to Gregory.
Strawberry Crest and Wiregrass Ranch passed the lead back and forth throughout the fourth quarter, but with 15.5 seconds left, the Bulls down by just three, Wiregrass Ranch was called for an offensive foul. Wiregrass coach John Gant, reacting to the call, was given a technical, and Gregory had the chance to all but end the game with a pair of free throws.
“I told Aliyah, ‘We need to drain them. For us to seal the game, we’ve got to have them,’ ” Strawberry Crest coach La’Tosha Lewis said. “Free throws are a key to winning a game.”
Gregory sunk them, and Strawberry Crest won 56-51, advancing to the region semifinals.
Turnovers plagued the Bulls in their district championship loss to Steinbrenner last Friday. And from the start of Thursday’s playoff game, it appeared Wiregrass Ranch hadn’t learned from its past mistakes. The Bulls, who finished with 30 turnovers, turned the ball over nine times in the first quarter alone.
“We’ve got to learn to play more intellectual basketball,” Gant said. “We’ve got to be smarter with the basketball instead of throwing it away.”
Strawberry Crest, meanwhile, took advantage of the extra opportunities and with the help of Gregory’s 18 first-half points, took a 31-21 lead into the break.
In the third quarter, though, Wiregrass Ranch proved it wasn’t quite ready for its season to be over.
Logan Seoane, who led the Bulls with 18 points, scored eight immediately after the break, and Wiregrass Ranch outscored the Chargers 21-10 in the third quarter, adding a quick layup at the buzzer to take the lead.
Terra Brooks scored seven in the fourth quarter to help Strawberry Crest stay alive before Gregory sealed the deal at the stripe. Gregory, who led the Chargers with 22 points, hit a milestone in the first half.
But coming up big for her team down the stretch — with the Chargers’ season on the line — nearly overshadowed that feat.
“I don’t care if I score zero points,” Gregory said. “As long as we win, that’s all I care about.