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Region girls basketball: Steinbrenner nabs first region final berth

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Tue. February 11, 2014 | Kelly Parsons

DOVER —Having lost more than half of his team’s scoring output from last season, Steinbrenner coach JR Allen has preached defense all season.

But in the first half of its Class 7A region semifinal Tuesday at Strawberry Crest, the Warriors just had a different kind of spark against the high-scoring Chargers.

With 8.1 seconds left in the second quarter, Olivia Unger marched down the court and sank an easy 3-pointer at the buzzer. The senior guard’s excited teammates met her at center court for high fives before heading into the locker room.

Sixteen minutes of game time later, the Warriors were in the exact same spot, but this time they celebrated their 50-38 win against Strawberry Crest and first ever region final berth. Steinbrenner will play Harmony on Saturday.

“It boosted our confidence,” senior guard Taylor Thigpen said about the Warriors’ early offensive success. “We were like, ‘Okay, we really can, and we believe that we can win this game. So we’ve just got to take it to them and continue doing what we do.’ ”

And though the shots were falling early for Steinbrenner (26-3), its game plan was still a defensive-minded one.

The Chargers came in averaging more than 63 points per game, but were noticeably affected by Steinbrenner’s zone defense. Strawberry Crest has excelled in transition. The Chargers (25-5) are used to running up and down the court, coach La’Tosha Lewis said, scoring quickly.

Against the Warriors, that wasn’t an option.

“That’s something we’re not used to doing,” Lewis said about her team’s forced slow pace. “They had a good defense scheme coming in, and we played right into their hands.”

Unger’s 3-pointer gave Steinbrenner a 13 point lead at halftime. The Chargers, who were led by Aliyah Gregory’s 19 points, pulled within six with less than eight minutes to play, but Strawberry Crest had two starters foul out as the final quarter progressed, halting its rally.

The Warriors, who came out of one of the toughest districts in the state, are certainly on a roll, but Allen is quick to point out their mistakes. Steinbrenner had 17 turnovers in the first half, and the Warriors missed eight free throws down the stretch.

Steinbrenner, led by Rachel Briere’s 16 points Tuesday, still doesn’t have that one player in whose hands it would put the ball with the game on the line. But Allen has come to terms with that lack of leadership.

Because with or without a star, the Warriors still seem to find a way.

“They’re slowly figuring out, if we just play lock-down, team defense, maybe we don’t have to have that go-to, killer player,” Allen said. “They can find a way to get it done together.”

Kelly Parsons can be reached at kaparsons@tampabay.com.

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