NEW PORT RICHEY — Friday's Class 5A, District 8 championship will feature one team that dominated by 20 points and another that squeaked by with two.
Gulf defeated Tarpon Springs 55-35, and Land O'Lakes overcame River Ridge 41-39 Wednesday to advance. Gulf is ranked first in the district and Land O'Lakes second.
"I'm not looking ahead yet," Gators coach Phyllis Crain said. "I'm just taking one team at a time."
In the first matchup, the Bucs widened the gap between scores in each quarter.
A 3-pointer by Tarpon's Jasmine Johnson tied the score at eight with less than three minutes left in the first. Gulf's Kayla Kivinski sank a layup on the next play, and the Spongers never drew that close to a tie again.
By the fourth quarter, the Bucs had a 16-point lead. That wasn't enough to make them complacent, coach Clare Ennis said.
"I don't think against a team like Tarpon you can ever be comfortable," she said. "You have to stay focused and composed."
The third quarter dragged as Gulf (21-3) racked up fouls. Ennis said once the girls calmed down, they were able to bring their game back in the fourth for the decisive win. Kivinski led all scorers with 27 points. Tarpon's Zoe Lekakis had 11.
The night's second game was much tighter. Though the Gators never gave up the lead, the Royal Knights kept it to a one-point match with aggressive play in the second half.
With just a minute left in the third, Leah Ford tied the score at 30, the last time the Royal Knights would come that close.
Ford and MacKenzie Kistler's shots beneath the rim kept the game heated until the end, and a series of free throws by Makala Canada and Taylor McDonald finally allowed Land O'Lakes to pull away.
With just 11 seconds left, a shot by River Ridge's Kayle Stark could have tied the score once again, this time at 41, but coach Joeyn Dearsman called timeout just before it landed.
Ford was the top scorer with 16 points, six of which were free throws. The Gators' Pamela Andrade had 15.
Crain was out of breath by the end of the match. "It was a good game," she said. "River Ridge is a good team to fight."
5A-7: Roberts sparks Pirates
DADE CITY — Brianca Roberts and her Pasco teammates could feel their season slipping away.
For the first two quarters against Hernando in a Class 5A, District 7 semifinal Wednesday, Roberts was held scoreless. Other than Ashley Webster's eight points at the half, the host Pirates hadn't mustered much on offense.
Inside the locker room, Roberts, a senior, told her teammates she wasn't going to let the season end without putting up a fight. And she didn't.
Roberts spearheaded a 16-0 run in the third quarter with 10 of her 16 points on the night to snatch back the lead — and the season — in a 42-34 triumph.
The win clinches the Pirates' (17-9) postseason berth and a meeting with Nature Coast for the district title on Friday night.
"I was not ready to be done," said Roberts, who also had 15 rebounds. "I feel like we have a lot more basketball to go."
Neither team had much success from the floor in the first half. Despite holding an early lead, Hernando (16-10) couldn't pull away and dealt with foul trouble as leading scorer Arianna Tankersley (15 points) was forced to the bench in the second quarter.
On the other end, Pasco struggled to take advantage, and coach Troy Moore told his players they had to stop settling for bad jump shots and instead go to the low post, where they had a size advantage.
His advice worked and led to the game-changing run in the third.
In the first semifinal, Nature Coast knocked off Central 65-49, but Sharks coach Emily Gore wasn't pleased with her team's overall performance
Led by Rita Jarque (35 points) and Mirandas Jones (11), Nature Coast (19-3) opened the game on a 13-0 run. But sloppy play in the second half helped the Bears keep it closer than Gore would have liked.
"I thought we had a fantastic first half, but we came out in the second half a little flat," Gore said. "You've got to give Central a lot of credit. They were doing the little things that we didn't want to do."
Evelyn Anderson had a team-high 20 for Central (13-13), including four from beyond the 3-point arc.
Jeff Odom, Times correspondent