SEMINOLE — Boca Ciega and St. Petersburg Catholic share a similar problem. They're young, having lost several talented players to graduation, including the Pirates' Latavia Dempsey and Barons' Jerica Coley.
Each team has been able to come together more quickly than their coaches expected and both have showcased excellent team play in upsetting more experienced squads this season. The Pirates, though, have a difference maker in Tamara Taylor.
On Friday, Taylor was instrumental in helping the Pirates recover from a 16-14 deficit as the USF-bound senior scored 19 of her game-high 29 points in the second half to secure a 45-41 victory in the opening round of the Indian Rocks Christian Winter Slam Tournament.
"Those (seniors from last year's team) pushed me a lot to become a complete player," said Taylor, who has been to three straight state semifinals. "I used to just be a shooter, but I've worked hard on doing everything I can to make this team better."
Part of making this year's version of the Pirates (7-1) better is abiding by coach Will White's philosophy to "play hard" every minute. The Pirates seemingly gathered every loose ball and offensive rebound to seize an 18-17 lead early in the third quarter and sustain it save for a brief 36-35 deficit with a minute and a half left in the game.
"If we take care of the little things, then the big things will take care of themselves," said Barons coach Nick Vandewalle. "We're still young and we had our heads brought back down to reality. If we make our free throws, grab defensive boards, hustle and get the loose ball, then we probably win the game."
The Barons (6-2) went 10-for-22 from the charity stripe with several misses on the front end of a one and one, while the Pirates shot 7-for-9 from the line.
Annie Artise led the Barons with 12 points and Brittney Dunbar had 10.
In the nightcap, Jessica Logemann had 13 points and Kristen Scholl had 12 to help lead Indian Rocks Christian to a 49-44 win over Plant. Kelly Brennan scored a game-high 15 for the Panthers.