TAMPA — A 17-point lead had been cut to two, her team was making uncharacteristic mistakes and the momentum was clearly with St. Petersburg Catholic, but as Tampa Catholic coach Nancy Kroll watched from the sideline something in her gut told her things would be okay.
"I was very confident in this team," Kroll said.
In crunch time, the Crusaders showed why.
A 3-pointer by TC guard Micah Kroll with 6:26 left sparked a 7-0 run, and from there Tampa Catholic held on for a dramatic 60-56 win Tuesday over the Barons that sends the Crusaders into the Class 3A region finals.
"That was a lot of fun," Nancy Kroll 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 tightness of the games can be illustrated with one statistic: In four games, 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, it appeared as though 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 quarter.
Just two weeks ago, SPC led TC by 16 in the third before falling in overtime.
"We didn't want the same thing to happen to us," Brennan said.
Yet at times, it looked like it might.
Cold to start the game, suddenly SPC (20-5) couldn't miss, and behind guard Jerica Coley (24 points) and forward Annie Artise (12), the Barons chipped away and chipped away. During SPC's surge, TC at times seemed a bit shellshocked and committed numerous turnovers against full-court pressure.
"We started playing Barons basketball," SPC coach Nick Vandewalle said.
Coley's 8-foot jumper with 6:43 made it 46-44 TC.
But Micah Kroll's 3-pointer helped stop the bleeding for TC, thus allowing the Crusaders to regain their composure in the nick of time.
"It was really important," Kroll said of her shot.