TAMPA — In the practices leading up to Wednesday's nondistrict game against Freedom, Plant coach Carrie Mahon focused on correcting her team's primary weakness: free-throw shooting.
All that repetition paid off as the Panthers went 19-of-24 in a 59-55 win against the Patriots.
"We had been shooting below 50 percent (from the line)," Mahon said. "I have researched free-throw shooting drills. I thought that after coaching for 19 years I had enough, but I didn't. We have done free throw and shooting drills the last few days like you can't imagine."
Zayna Beckles led the way, going 12-for-14 (86 percent) on her free throws. The junior made 11 in a row, including three after Freedom (8-2) took a one-point lead with 6:40 remaining in the game. It was the first and only lead for the Patriots, who have lost two straight. Beckles scored a team-high 18 points and added seven rebounds and three steals.
Mahon told the Panthers (8-1) during their postgame huddle that this was their most complete game of the young season as several players made key plays during the fourth quarter.
After Lauren Repp sank two free throws to give the Patriots a 45-42 advantage, Nicole Sivyer made the Panthers' second 3-pointer of the night to tie it. On the Panthers' next possession, Sivyer sent fellow senior Alex Tejada a crosscourt pass from the top of the key to the low block, and Tejada laid in the shot to give Plant the lead for good.
Tejada had 15 points and five rebounds, and Kelly Brennan scored 12.
Freedom freshman Taylor Emery, who came into the game averaging just more than 23 points, scored a game-high 29.
"We didn't do anything to slow her down. She's awesome," Mahon said. "I will say that she had to work, and that's the only thing that could've happened."