GULFPORT — Jefferson, a young team, was only able to take infant steps in its first girls basketball region final appearance.
Boca Ciega, a veteran team, was able to stride boldly back to a precious and familiar spot:
The final four.
Sure, the Pirates played splendid defense, passed efficiently and rebounded purposely in their home gym.
But what Boca Ciega did best was shoot in a breathtakingly aggressive style that crushed the Dragons 68-51 in a Class 5A region final Saturday.
The Pirates head back to the Lakeland Center to play Davie Nova in the state semifinals Wednesday.
"Boca Ciega beat us by doing what it does best, which is hitting the 3-point shot," Jefferson coach Tom Mosca said.
The Pirates made sure-footed 3-pointers and off-balance 3-pointers. They tossed them in from the corners and from the wings, and the shots kept falling like anvils on Jefferson's heads and hopes.
Most of those long-range shots came from Tory Stephens, who had six 3s, including some what-the-heck heaves that helped Boca Ciega go on a 12-0 run to close the first quarter and take control.
"I just felt the vibe" Stephens said of her 3-pointers. "I just released, and once they started hitting, I kept shooting."
The rest of the game, the Pirates (28-3) played with passion and looked like a team perfectly prepared by coach Will White.
Ahead 36-24 at the half, Boca Ciega maintained its lead the rest of the way.
Bene'e Glanton scored 14 and Shayla Wilson added 11 to give Jefferson a chance. But each time the Dragons (26-2) pulled closer, Boca Ciega stretched its lead with another bomb from Stephens, who led all scorers with 30 points.
"Tory took over," White said. "Some of the shots she made were unbelievable. I think she just smiled after hitting some of them."