Boca Ciega's Will White, a coach of volatile emotions, hurried off the court Wednesday night, walked into the locker room with his girls basketball team and, after a long pause, opened the door to talk to the media. All anyone wanted to discuss were the final, decisive seconds in the Class 5A state semifinal against Davie Nova. White thought about it for a moment, but no matter how much he replayed the ending in his head, it was not going to change the outcome. The Pirates lost 42-41. The pivotal play came with 2.6 seconds remaining. Boca Ciega's Latavia Dempsey fouled the Titans' Tonya Aaron. She hit her second free throw, which proved to be the winning point. The Pirates looked stunned as Nova celebrated wildly. The loss, Boca Ciega's first in its past 20 games, prevented the Pirates from advancing to the state championship game for the first time since 1996. There were other moments that played a big role in deciding the outcome.
Poor shooting: Boca Ciega started the game with a hollow clank in an arena that has created trouble for the Pirates the past two seasons.
They bore faraway looks against Nova, and their 3-pointers, putbacks, hook shots and layups never found their way through the basket early on at the Lakeland Center.
It was evident in the first quarter when Boca Ciega missed its first two 3-point attempts and turned the ball over twice to fall in a 9-0 hole. The deficit grew and the Pirates trailed 16-4 late in the first quarter before Dempsey hit a 3-pointer to start a rally.
Boca Ciega showed grit in coming back and taking the lead. But some crucial shots at the end proved costly. In all, the Pirates shot 22 percent from the field.
Foul trouble: The game was physical from the start with Nova's Jassany Williams establishing herself in the low post. The 6-foot-2 forward had seven points and five blocks in the first quarter. The Pirates did a good job of neutralizing her and the Titans' guards the rest of the way, but it came at a price.
Boca Ciega's Tory Stephens and Missy Schmidt each picked up two personal fouls with two minutes left in the first quarter. By the fourth quarter, Schmidt and Stephens each had four fouls and eventually fouled out.
If the game had ended in a tie in regulation, the Pirates would have gone into overtime missing two key starters.
Free throws: Boca Ciega did a good job of driving to the basket, drawing fouls and getting to the line. Once the Pirates were there, however, things did not turn out so well.
Especially toward the end.
The Pirates missed eight free throws in the final 90 seconds. Some were excruciating, such as the two attempts Tamara Taylor had in the final minute that rattled out.
"We didn't lose because of the officiating," White said. "We lost because we didn't make our free throws."