TAMPA — Though a tardy arrival, adversity still shoehorned its way into a raucous Chamberlain gymnasium throng of roughly 800 Tuesday night.
It didn't stick around long. The resilient hosts sent it — and a hearty legion of Sickles fans — on a quiet, crestfallen exit shortly thereafter.
Trailing by seven in the fourth quarter with their top scorer saddled with five fouls, the Chiefs (24-2) rallied for a 48-45 triumph in a nip-and-tuck Class 5A region semifinal. Chamberlain seeks its first state tournament berth since 2006 Saturday at Gibbs.
Contrary to widespread perception, the Chiefs will take more than a two-man team to St. Petersburg.
With sleek sophomore Reggie Hart (20 points) fouled out and normally prolific scorer Eric Storts (12) struggling to find his shooting touch, the Chiefs turned to a mantra — and a moxie-laden sophomore — down the stretch.
"We talk about players make plays," Chiefs coach Christopher Snyder said, "but we also say that defense wins games and free throws make the difference."
On Tuesday, Chamberlain forced three turnovers in the last 1:09, hit 5-of-6 free throws in the last three minutes, and got a clutch scoring sequence from lean 10th-grader Ariel Martinez.
Sickles, by contrast, squandered prime chances to extend its late lead. Storts cut his team's deficit to 43-38 on a putback before the Gryphons missed the front end of consecutive one-and-one free-throw chances. The first miss resulted in two Storts free throws on the other end to make it 43-40.
The second led to Martinez's baseline 3-pointer, tying the score at 43 with 2:34 to go. Martinez later added a putback to re-tie the score.
The Gryphons (23-7) gave away the lead for good with 11.6 seconds to play when Rod Hart sank two free throws after snagging a loose ball on the Sickles' wing and being fouled on an ensuing fastbreak attempt.
That made it 47-45. Martinez sank 1 of 2 free throws after another Sickles turnover with 1.8 seconds to go.
"I just thought during the fourth period, the execution wasn't quite there," Sickles coach Renaldo Garcia said. "But I'm really proud of our kids. We came over here in a hostile environment and the kids competed well."