PINELLAS PARK — Boca Ciega had waltzed through its Class 5A, District 12 opponents this season, beating each one by double digits to claim the No. 1 seed for the tournament.
And after beating Largo by 37 in the semifinals to make the playoffs for the 19th straight season, it was widely assumed the Pirates would administer a thrashing to Gibbs in Friday's championship game.
But Boca Ciega trailed in the first quarter and had to rally to beat the Gladiators 56-40 to win its sixth straight district title.
A big reason the Pirates (21-5) struggled was the absence of their biggest scoring threat, Tamara Taylor, who sat out the game after bruising her back during a charge in the semis.
Boca Ciega coach Will White said there is a slight possibility Taylor could miss next week's region quarterfinal game.
"We didn't want Tamara to go out and play with an injury," White said. "It gave us a chance to use what basically will be our starting lineup next season."
After the first quarter, the Gladiators (4-12) went ahead 13-12, but it didn't last long. The Pirates started finding their rhythm on offense, outscoring Gibbs a combined 33-16 in the next two quarters to put the game out of reach.
"Gibbs played well," White said. "They had a lot of energy. And they were tall and athletic, which are things that will give any team problems."
White praised the play of Destiny Brown, who filled in at point guard and scored 11.
"Destiny stepped up in a big role, and her versatility was helpful for us," White said.
Jakera Allen scored a team-high 19 for Boca Ciega. Bria Bostick led the Gladiators with 17.