LAKELAND — The grace was gone.
It was just Boca Ciega and a once-fluid offense, stalled, 24 feet from the basket, blue and gold silhouettes of much larger girls waiting for them in the middle.
So Latavia Dempsey, a 5-foot-6 guard for the Pirates, did what all great instinctive players do when a play breaks down.
She stepped back from the chaos and fired.
The 3-pointer was all net as time expired in the first quarter Wednesday. It was a momentum-changing play from Boca Ciega's Lilliputian backcourt against a brawny Davie Nova team that had fallen asleep.
Dempsey's shot got the Pirates back in the game as they surged to an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter.
But it wasn't enough.
Nova scored the final nine in regulation to win 42-41 in the Class 5A state semifinal.
The difference came in the final 2.6 seconds when Dempsey was charged with a foul. Tonya Aaron hit 1-of-2 free throws to give the Titans the lead. Boca Ciega (28-4) had a chance to win but Dempsey's halfcourt shot at the end of regulation fell short.
"We had the game in our hands and couldn't make free throws at the end," Pirates coach Will White said.
Early on, Nova (27-3) was dominant as Jassany Williams controlled the inside. The 6-foot-2 post player had seven points and five blocks in the first quarter as the Titans built a 16-4 lead.
Then Dempsey hit her 3-pointer.
That started a 9-0 run that cut the deficit to 16-13. Boca Ciega kept chipping away at the lead and trailed 22-21 at the half.
"The slow start … I don't think it was nerves," White said. "We were able to settle down and get involved in our game plan."
In the third quarter, the Pirates outscored Nova 13-6 to go ahead 34-28. But at the end of the quarter, Boca Ciega's Tory Stephens recorded her fourth foul.
She fouled out in the final three minutes. And in the final minute, the Pirates' Missy Schmidt fouled out, too. With a depleted lineup Nova took advantage, hitting free throws down the stretch.
Still, the game appeared headed into overtime until the final foul.
That put Aaron on the line for the first time. She was 1-of-2, her only free throw providing the winning points.
Afterward, White and his players stormed off the court. White talked to the media, but did not allow his players to be interviewed.
"It was just unfortunate that the game was decided by some judgments," White said.