TAMPA — Moments after providing Clearwater with the season's last basket, and last gasp of hope for that matter, Cory Carden provided its last image.
It was a poignant one, of the point guard weeping on the shoulder of his dad and coach. On a tense, tightly officiated night, Carden and his teammates had just had their collective heart broken in 3s.
And an unsuspecting Sickles backup did the dissecting.
Squeezing a career game into the final eight minutes of the Class 5A region final, Gryphons senior guard Caleb Kamm scored 11 of his 15 points in the final period, including consecutive 3-pointers and two free throws, to help propel Sickles (28-2) to a 48-46 win against the Tornadoes (24-7).
"We didn't see (Kamm) coming," Tornadoes coach Allen Carden acknowledged afterward. "But you need those types of games to get in the final four."
That's where the Gryphons are headed after a furious evening that featured 13 lead changes, two technical fouls and a string of clutch plays by both teams. Perhaps none were bigger than the ones delivered by Kamm, whose back-to-back 3s helped spark a 10-0 Gryphons run that gave them a 43-37 lead.
But while Kamm took the Tornadoes out of the 5A bracket, Sickles' suffocating man defense and early foul trouble for 6-foot-9 center and FSU commitment Okaro White took Clearwater out of its uptempo element.
White, held to six points, picked up his second foul, a technical, with 3:52 to play in the first period. White and Jordan Davis appeared to bump each other after Davis called timeout upon being trapped in a corner.
"I didn't think he deserved that," Allen Carden said, "but the referee said he did, and he came back and called one on (Sickles' Rashawn Rembert), so it was consistent."
Re-entering with 5:10 to play in the second and Clearwater trailing 16-11, White sparked a 7-0 run with a pair of free throws and nifty interior feed to Branden Leston for a layup. But the Tornadoes, who never led by more than four, couldn't sustain the rhythm nor consistently create second shots.
"They were really physical with him, and he was off a little bit," Carden said. "We've got to have his 18 points a game, and he just didn't get to ever get in sync. You've got to give them credit for that defense."
After Sickles' 10-0 run to a 43-37 lead, Clearwater answered with Joey Nungester's 3-pointer and a traditional three-point play by Dionta Hubbard to tie the score with 59.3 seconds to play.
But Kamm answered with two free throws seven seconds later, and White missed a jumper in the lane on the ensuing possession. Rembert's two free throws made it 47-43 with 18.1 seconds to go. Cory Carden (14 points) hit a 3 with 3.3 seconds to go.
"I just thought the guys were resilient tonight," Gryphons coach Renaldo Garcia said.