TAMPA — Academy at the Lakes, the smallest school entered in the Jaguar Holiday Tournament, will challenge the event's biggest school for the championship today.
Both AATL and Plant earned close victories in Friday's semifinals, the Wildcats beating host Academy of the Holy Names 38-33 and Plant outlasting Steinbrenner 46-43. The final is set for 7 p.m.
Despite having just six players suited up, AATL improved to 14-0 as Taylor Polasky, a 5-foot-1 seventh-grader, sank four 3-pointers to lead the Wildcats with 14 points.
"Lot of credit to (Holy Names) for throwing something at us we hadn't seen before; they were frustrating us," said AATL coach Karim Nohra of the Jaguars' triangle-and-two. Stepping in for starter Luz Santiago, who broke her hand in Thursday's quarterfinals, Polasky nailed a 3 for a 29-26 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Tatiana Manuel, held to one field goal through three, made three straight to give the Wildcats a commanding 38-29 lead. Before that neither team led by more than six points. Both Manuel and Timecia Cohen scored 10 for AATL.
Holy Names was without junior guard Ashley McWilliams (knee) and her 21 points per game. And Victoria Martinez played through both a physical injury and having two deaths in the family take place within 24 hours of the game.
"She didn't have to play, but she wanted to. What a courageous effort," said Holy Names coach Melissa Ganther. Martinez had nine points and 13 rebounds. Caroline Kimbler led the Jaguars (9-6) with 10 points. Holy Names stayed close despite a scoreless second quarter.
In the earlier semifinal, Steinbrenner overcame its own one-point second period to take Plant to the wire. With the game tied at 36, the Panthers (12-4) went on a 8-2 run to prevail.
It was 16-9 Plant at the half before Bailey Hooker's five 3-pointers sparked the Warriors (15-2). She finished with 17 points.
The Panthers' Ray Brown was a bit better though, scoring 19, including a running 15-footer that made it 40-36. Brown also had 10 rebounds.
In other action Gulf lost 48-43 to Braden River, and Wiregrass Ranch routed St. Petersburg Catholic 49-24.