TAMPA — Homecourt advantage took on even more meaning than one would expect in a school's first ever region final game.
Brooks DeBartolo (28-4) rode its favorite end of the school's cozy gym — the one where most of its fans sit — to an astonishing second half and a 64-37 defeat of Fort Pierce Lincoln Park on Saturday. The Phoenix will play Havana East Gadsden in Wednesday's Class 4A state semifinals in Lakeland.
Amazing but true: Brooks DeBartolo actually trailed with 2:30 left in the first half. But the Phoenix ended it with a 15-0 run and never saw the margin get back into single digits.
"I knew we had it because when we go to that basket, with our crowd, it just gets us so hype," said Don'Niya Brooks, whose back-to-back drives followed by a 3-pointer from Mariah Grossman made it 45-29 late in the third quarter.
Alyssa Nieves paced the Phoenix with 15 points while Brooks scored 13 with six assists. Alexis Allen scored 10 of her 12 in a strong first half and Courtney Hall joined Allen as a dominant inside presence, scoring eight with 14 rebounds.
Lincoln Park was dogged on defense but made just two of 21 attempts in the third period including three blown layups on fast breaks. The Greyhounds (21-5) appeared lost after leading scorer Taneria Wilson picked up her fourth foul with 6:09 in the quarter, heading to the bench. She would foul out with five minutes remaining.
The Greyhounds missed 31 of 33 shots in one spell while the Phoenix, after a sloppy patch to start the third, were 12 for 15.
"We always go on runs," Phoenix coach Maggie Hedley said. "We've been in some tight games, we played a tough schedule so regardless of who we're playing, we're not going to back down."
Included in that schedule is a two-point win over Seffner Christian to end the regular season, part of the Phoenix's current 14-game winning streak.
After a 15-6 early lead it looked like Brooks DeBartolo might have met its match, as substitute Zuumarh Eayman made three 3-pointers to give Lincoln Park a 23-20 edge. Wilson had a spectacular spinning layup then but, perhaps critically, it was waved off for travelling.
A strong contingent of supporters who made the four-hour drive from Fort Pierce was confident, one fan yelling "you're too slow, we're gonna run you out of here." The fan was later ejected by police for being too rambunctious.
Then the Phoenix got hot: a steal by Cyann Fox sparked the 15-0 run, with Brooks scoring and then Hall getting an offensive rebound and the Phoenix had the lead for good with 2:20 before half. Hall added another putback and Nieves hit a 3-pointer with 1:10 left for a 32-23 lead.
The fourth quarter took on a party vibe with the Phoenix getting baskets from six different players, including five points by Ariyan Lennett off the bench.
How long can the party continue? Now, a team with only two playoff victories in its history isn't just happy to be headed to state.
"No doubt," Brooks said. "We feel we have a good chance to go all the way."