PALM HARBOR — Palm Harbor University held on after an explosive start to bump Sarasota Riverview out of the Class 8A, District 8 semifinals, 62-51, Wednesday night.
It returned the favor from a year ago when the Rams bounced PHU in the semis.
A spirited warmup and pre-game chant, backed by coach Darian Dublin's pre-game speech, electrified the 'Canes (22-3) to a 17-0 lead after the first quarter. The full-court trap was working like clockwork as the 'Canes forced 10 turnovers. Riverview (5-16), however, answered in the second quarter, outscoring PHU 21-15 to bring the halftime lead down to 31-21.
"(Riverview) came in knowing what they were up against; they were going to make us have to play," Dublin said.
In the second half, Riverview finally started to hit its 3-point tries and its tenaciousness gobbling up offensive rebounds kept inching the team closer. Michaela Leonard hit a basket for PHU as time expired in the third but the Rams had closed within 46-37.
In the fourth, Alyssa Spaldi opened up with a quick basket and Kaylin Ingram hit a 3-pointer to buy some breathing room. But the Rams charged right back, cutting the lead to five with minutes to play.
Fortunately for the 'Canes, Amber Jennings was lights out from behind the arc, going 4-for-4 and scoring a game-high 21 points. The Rams came storming back again, hit a triple and it was 54-51 with 1:43 left on the clock.
"I think there was a little sweat," Dublin said.
Then Julia Ingram threw a long pass to Leonard for an easy bucket out of the timeout and the Rams were forced to put PHU on the free-throw line in the last minute. The 'Canes answered as Chardonay Aldrich and Julia Ingram hit both of their free throws.
"I tell them all the time, games are won and lost at the charity stripe," Dublin said.
In the other semifinal, host St. Petersburg, after a slow start, eased past Manatee 74-38.
"Sometimes when you play a team for the third time you come out a little complacent and that's what we did," St. Petersburg coach Tamika Coley said. "We got off to a slow start and put some of our younger kids in to wake up the older players.''
St. Petersburg (21-5) beat Manatee 62-19 and 64-26 in the regular season. This time around, Lazasha Baskins led the Green Devils with 19 points. Jordan Berenbaum added 13 and Victoria Uhatafe scored 12.
The win sets up a fourth meeting with PHU on Friday for the district championship. The Green Devils have lost two of three against PHU, including an overtime loss in the PCAC championship. Coley said her team is looking forward to playing the Hurricanes again.
"But we've got to play 32 minutes of basketball,'' she said. "We can't play 30 or 31. That's something we'll work on in practice.''
Staff writer Rodney Page contributed to this report.