ST. PETERSBURG — Both coaches knew the rubber match between Gibbs and Largo in Class 5A-12 would be a battle. And in a game that featured 10 lead changes and five ties, they proved correct as the Packers won 46-43 Friday.
"That was a humdinger, huh," Largo coach Kristofer Foote said. "I told the girls you have to want to play in games like this and be prepared for anything that comes your way. At this time of the season, you've got to rebound, play defense and not care who gets the credit."
The Packers (11-6) showed that resolve as they built a 32-29 lead in the first half without senior point guard Kendra Brown, who sat due to team discipline rules. But Brown demonstrated her moxie as a leader, first by setting up Uniqueika Walker for a layup to get the Packers back on top at 40-39. Then after the Gladiators (8-11) missed a chippie inside, Brown nailed a 3-pointer with Gibbs 6-foot-3 center Sheneice Beamon running at her.
The Gladiators fought back to tie on Walker's basket with a minute left but Gibbs senior guard Ashley Walker made an ill-fated decision when she called a timeout despite Gibbs not having any left.
"I feel horrible for her and it's tough because she's been such a great player for us," Gibbs coach Angela Meiser said.
After Brianna Kirkland sank one free throw on the technical, Brown came up with a steal with 12 seconds left and hit 1 of 2 free throws after being fouled. Gibbs missed a couple opportunities to tie, and Brandi Feazell made a free throw for the final margin.
The Packers will face Boca Ciega, which earned an easy 58-32 victory over Northeast. The Pirates were led by Latavia Dempsey's 14 points.
"We just have to handle business on Saturday and then move on to the regionals," Boca Ciega coach Will White said. "All we're thinking about now is one game at a time. Survive and advance."