ZEPHYRHILLS — There was little indication the first day of the Bulldog Invitational that Countryside had anything to worry about facing McKeel Academy in the championship game.
However, the Class 6A Cougars were shocked by a 3-pointer in the waning seconds to fall 48-47 to the Class 3A Wildcats on Wednesday night.
"We just didn't execute," Countryside coach Andy Lieb said. "The girls were scared to have the ball in their hands when (McKeel) played pressure defense on us."
Everything started according to plan for Countryside (10-4). The Cougars jumped out to a 21-11 lead in the first quarter behind crisp passing and solid scoring from the trio of Aly Grossman (21 points, four 3-pointers), Nicole Dunn (12 points, nine rebounds) and Kristin Shriver (eight points, three rebounds, three steals). At the half, those three had accounted for all but two of the team's 36 points.
McKeel (15-3) showed signs of life in the second quarter, going on an 8-0 run. Countryside seemed to compose itself by answering with its own 7-0 spurt.
The second half brought only more vitality from the Wildcats' side. McKeel went on a 12-2 run to start the third quarter. The small program from Lakeland clamped down on defense and outscored Countryside 25-11 in the second half.
Down 47-42, McKeel guard Cappy Toney (17 points, six rebounds) hit a 3-pointer with 47.4 seconds on the clock to bring the Wildcats within three. With 3.2 seconds remaining, Wildcats guard Taylor Collins (11 points, five rebounds, six assists) nailed a final dagger 3-pointer to end the game.
In the consolation final, Hernando defeated Zephyrhills 61-35 for its third win over the Bulldogs this season.
The Leopards (7-6) were led by Jasmire Brown (24 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, three steals). The star forward dominated for much of the game and did not even play in the fourth quarter.
"I know what I'm going to get out of Jasmire," Hernando coach Kevin Bittinger said. "We need other girls to concentrate on other aspects. We can't always just be centered on Jasmire Brown."
Zephyrhills (2-10), still without four starters for the second straight game, were down only 26-21 at the half. Hernando outscored the host Bulldogs 24-6 in the third quarter to blow open the game.