TAMPA — The problem with digging a hole too deep is that even when a team climbs out of it, there isn't much energy left to close the deal.
That was the lesson St. Petersburg Catholic learned Tuesday night. Once down by 17 in the third quarter at Tampa Catholic, the Barons improbably fought back to within two after a Jerica Coley basket with 6:43 left. But that was as close as SPC got thanks to a 7-0 TC run, which allowed the Crusaders to gut out a 60-56 win that sends them into the Class 3A region finals.
"I think we ran out of gas," SPC coach Nick Vandewalle said.
The meeting was the fourth this season between the teams, and TC (27-2) emerged with a 3-1 record, including a victory in the District 10 final. The close games can be illustrated with one statistic: In them, TC scored only four more points than SPC.
"It's always been a good rivalry," TC forward Sarah Brennan said.
For much of the first 21/2 quarters of Tuesday's game, it appeared TC would win with ease. Behind six first-half 3-pointers, three from guard Colette Eule (20 points), the Crusaders built a 32-19 halftime lead, then went up 38-21 two minutes into the third.
Cold to start the game, suddenly SPC (20-5) couldn't miss, and behind Coley (24 points) and forward Annie Artise (12) the Barons chipped away and chipped away. During SPC's surge, TC seemed a bit shellshocked, committing numerous turnovers against the Barons' full-court pressure.
"We started playing Barons basketball," Vandewalle said.
Coley's 8-foot jumper made it 46-44 TC.
But Micah Kroll answered with a 3-pointer to stop the bleeding, allowing the Crusaders to regain their composure.
SPC, which was without starting forward Nikki Parker (torn ACL), got within three before TC iced it at the line.
"I'm proud of our girls," Vandewalle said. "They played their guts out."