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TAMPA — It may have been the most excruciating 20 or so minutes of basketball Nancy Kroll ever has had to take sitting down.
Forced to her chair by a rare technical foul late in the first half, Tampa Catholic’s ultra-successful coach could only sit, squirm and scream herself hoarse as Fort Myers Dunbar (27-1) stormed back from a 12-point second-half deficit in Saturday’s Class 4A region final. By night’s end, Kroll had lost her voice, and the Crusaders (20-10) had lost their bid for a fourth consecutive state tournament berth as the Tigers escaped with a 63-58 overtime triumph.
“We played hard, the ball bounced their way,” said Kroll, who watched stepdaughter Micah Kroll (22 points) and fellow senior Kai Jones (21) nearly pull things out “And for my two seniors especially, Micah and Kai, we really did think we would get back to Lakeland for the fourth time. They played their hearts out. I’m very proud of the entire team.”
Behind the senior tandem, TC built a nine-point halftime lead that increased to 12 early in the third on two Britany Betts free throws. From there, Dunbar exploded for a 15-0 run, during which TC found itself stymied by foul trouble and the Tigers’ physicality on the offensive glass.
DeDe Burger’s basket capped the run, giving Dunbar a 46-43 lead early in the fourth. “I think we gave up too many offensive rebounds,” Nancy Kroll said. “That’s what really took us out of our game — we weren’t rebounding and running.”
The Crusaders, however, re-seized the momentum behind Micah Kroll’s three consecutive 3-pointers, the last of which gave TC a 52-48 lead.
“I’m like, ‘It’s on now. Let’s go,’ ” Jones said.
Burger’s two free throws with 2:21 to play made it 52-50. Thirty seconds later, Dunbar snagged its second straight steal of a TC inbound pass, resulting in a Kiara Desamours layup and tie score with 1:50 to go. Neither team scored again in regulation, during which Micah Kroll fouled out with nine seconds to go. With Dunbar ahead 61-58 in overtime and the possession arrow in TC’s favor, a midcourt collision that included a Tigers dribbler resulted in a loose ball and whistle.
Nancy Kroll, who had been slapped with her technical for waving off an official after a disputed call, said she was told the whistle was inadvertent. Dunbar was awarded the ball back, and four seconds later, Burger hit one of two free throws to nearly seal things with 14.3 ticks to go.
“I’m a little disappointed and possibly should’ve had a little bit more composure, I suppose,” Nancy Kroll said. “But I don’t think Mike Krzyzewski’s ever gotten a technical for doing a hand wave. And I don’t think a male coach in a boys basketball game would’ve gotten a technical for such a thing.”