TAMPA — Moments after clinching their second state final four berth in as many seasons, Tampa Catholic's 5-foot-11 senior Sarah Brennan and coach Nancy Kroll followed through with their postseason tradition of an elevated chest bump at midcourt.
But it was altogether different types of contact, whistled against Bradenton Southeast's best player, that altered the complexion of Saturday's Class 3A region final in the Crusaders' gym.
When Seminoles top scorer Bianca Hanna was benched after picking up her third foul barely five minutes into the game, the Crusaders pulled away and preserved their lead en route to a 62-48 triumph. TC (28-2) faces Tallahassee Rickards on Wednesday at the Lakeland Center.
"I'm very happy about the way the kids played," Kroll said. "The two seniors (Brennan and 5-9 forward Colette Eule) were saying, 'We're not losing our last game on our home court, Coach.' I said, 'I know that.' "
Hanna, a slashing-type guard who still led all scorers with 24 points despite sitting out the final 11 minutes of the first half, was saddled with her third foul — a charge — with 2:53 to play in the first and Southeast (28-2) trailing 12-11.
TC immediately responded with a 9-2 run, with junior Meghan Keough scoring seven during the spurt. Employing a full-court press that forced several backcourt turnovers, which led to easy transition layups, the Crusaders took a 34-23 halftime lead.
Hanna scored 11 in the third period, but consecutive 3-pointers by Micah Kroll and Eule (13 points) pushed TC's lead to 46-31 with 2:24 to play in the third.
Brennan, who led the Crusaders with 20 points, scored six in a row to start the fourth, the last on a nifty Eule interior feed that made it 54-39.