TAMPA — For the better part of three quarters during the title game of the Keeler Memorial Tournament, host Tampa Catholic had its way with Plant.
But it was Tuesday's fourth quarter, particularly the final three minutes that lived up to the matchup's billing. Tampa Catholic fought off a furious rally and got huge plays from junior forward Colette Eule to hold on for a 53-49 win and its second straight Keeler championship.
"They're a good team and they wanted to win," Tampa Catholic coach Nancy Kroll said of Plant. "But that's a tribute to us and to Colette. She played almost the whole game and she was phenomenal."
With Plant (10-2) out of synch and uncharacteristically cold from the floor, Tampa Catholic methodically built a lead. Toward the end of the third quarter, the Crusaders (13-1) stretched their advantage to 40-25, their biggest of the game.
But that was when the Panthers, who came into the game on a seven-game win streak, played their best.
Behind some key baskets from Michelle Taylor and Ganice Macho, who scored 11 of her 17 in the fourth quarter, Plant went on a 20-8 run to narrow the margin to three with 2:30 left.
The momentum shift continued when Macho made back-to-back layups to give Plant a 49-48 edge, its first lead since the first quarter. But Eule thwarted any hopes of Plant finishing off the comeback.
Eule posted five straight free throws in the final minute, along with two rebounds and a blocked shot, putting Tampa Catholic back on top for good.
Eule finished with 24 points while teammate Sarah Brennan added 14. Taylor scored 10 for Plant.
"We just turned the ball over too much early in the game," said Kroll, whose team has won nine in a row. "We had a little dry spell on offense in the second half. But we expect to score 70 points a game no matter who we play.
"We didn't handle that but we did enough when we had to."
City of Tampa
Tampa Prep 67, Hillsborough 66: When Tampa Prep's Jamal Cherry got fouled with 4.6 seconds left and his team down by one, he knew he had to put the two free throws he had missed a minute earlier behind him. And he did.
Cherry swished both and the Terrapins won the City of Tampa Championship for the second consecutive year.
"I was pretty nervous at first, but I just thought to myself, I have to do what I always do in practice and step to the line and put them in," Cherry said.
The teams went back and forth the entire game as neither led by more than seven.
Terriers guard Alvon Woodard hit four 3-pointers in the first half to give his team a 34-29 advantage at halftime.
Hillsborough maintained the lead until Cherry hit two free throws with three minutes to go to give Tampa Prep its first lead since the first quarter.
After Michael Jimerson put the Terriers back up by one, Cherry answered with the two free throws then blocked Aydrick Brown's layup attempt at the buzzer.
Tampa Prep's Jay Bowie took home tournament MVP honors after scoring a game-high 24. Senior Jake Haslem added 15.
Woodard scored 19 to lead Hillsborough.
All three of the Terrapins' tournament wins came against much bigger public schools.
"It just shows we can compete with the big boys," Cherry said.
Justin Dargahi, Times correspondent