TAMPA — The 32-minute procedure wasn't without some mild discomfort, but Sickles finally extracted the pesky, proverbial thorn from its side Tuesday evening.
In their fourth meeting against Hillsborough, the Gryphons (25-3) relied on a group effort to fend off a late Terriers charge for a 57-50 triumph in the Class 5A region semifinals. Sickles makes the first region final appearance in Gryphons basketball history — boys or girls — Saturday at Boca Ciega.
Speaking of history, Hillsborough, 0-4 against Sickles this season, appeared bent on making some of its own down the stretch Tuesday.
"I think the lesson we learned is we've got to play the whole ball game," said Gryphons coach Mark Key, whose last three wins against the Terriers have come by 17 total points. "We've got to do the things that got us to this point."
Down by as many as 19 in the first half, the Terriers (14-10) found their transition game and long-range touch to make it a two-possession contest in the last 18.4 seconds. But after being fouled on an inbounds play, sophomore Bre Crum sank two free throws — her eighth and ninth points of the fourth period — to seal things.
Crum (13 points) and senior Lindsey Botts (12) came up huge for the Gryphons in the second half when Hillsborough's 2-3 zone sagged in on 6-foot-4 junior Amber Henson. With coaches from Maryland and Texas looking on, Henson had 17 of her 24 points before halftime, many on second- and third-chance shots.
Her coast-to-coast layup at the third-quarter horn gave Sickles a 43-30 lead. But Terriers guards Cassandra Nevarez (team-high 15 points) and Vaishia Barnes opened the fourth with back-to-back 3-pointers. Crum answered with a runner, two free throws and a tough basket in the lane to give the Gryphons a 49-38 lead.
"Amber had another good night," Key said, "but it was a team effort."