TAMPA — Wharton's freshman duo of Tesha Hanson and Shayla Cooper combined for 30 points and the Wildcats held on Tuesday to outlast rival Plant 46-43 in a key district meeting.
The win completed a regular-season sweep for Wharton (13-4) against Class 6A, District 8 foe Plant (11-5), which moved to the district this season. The district-leading Wildcats improved to 6-0 in league play, three games ahead of second-place Plant.
And Wharton did so behind the strength of rookies Hanson and Cooper.
The Wildcats, who trailed only once in the game, took their five-point halftime lead and stretched it to 26-17 minutes into the third period after back-to-back layups from Cooper.
But the Panthers managed to rally with a defense that forced turnovers and the play of senior guard Michelle Taylor.
Taylor hit three 3-pointers in the second half while helping the Panthers come back from the nine-point deficit to pull within one with 45 seconds remaining.
After Cooper hit two free throws to put Wharton up by three with 22 seconds left, Plant was in position to tie the score, but another Taylor 3-point attempt bounced off the rim.
The Panthers had one last shot at a tying basket but Hanson forced a turnover to preserve the win. Taylor led all scorers with 22 points.
Cooper led Wharton with 18 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots. Hanson added 12 points.
"Plant is a good, well-coached team," said Wharton coach Chad Reed, whose team also defeated Plant in early December. "It's a tough game every time we go up against them. But they (Cooper and Hanson) just really played well tonight. They're just freshmen but this team also has some senior leadership.
"And the girls are just really playing well right now."