Saturday, April 21, 2018

Girls basketball: Pasco edges top-seeded Nature Coast

DADE CITY — The wild twists and turns started early, and kept going right to the last second as Pasco defeated top-seeded Nature Coast 67-65 in a Class 5A, District 7 championship game thriller Friday.

With the score tied Tranisha Harmon missed a free throw, but Brianca Roberts grabbed the rebound and fed Harmon for the go-ahead shot with 18 seconds left. Nature Coast turned it over, only to steal it back and have two shots within 5 feet miss before the horn sounded.

Pasco will host Land O'Lakes in the regional quarterfinals with Nature Coast travelling to Gulf.

Roberts had 22 points while Harmon scored 17 and had 19 rebounds. Micaiah Young added 18 points for Pasco, her 3-pointer putting the Pirates ahead 61-54 with three minutes left.

But on this night any time it appeared a team had control, it lost it. Rita Jarque's three-point play gave the Sharks (18-4) a chance. Mirandas Jones' 3 made it 63-62 but then Roberts, falling out of bounds, lofted an assist to Young, who put Pasco up three with 50 seconds remaining.

"I was going to do whatever it took tonight," Roberts said.

Fifteen seconds later Emmalee Harris drained a 3 to tie it.

"We hit a huge 3 there. We just couldn't get the ball to fall in the basket again," Sharks coach Emily Gore said.

For Nature Coast, Harris scored 20, Jarque had 18 points and 14 rebounds and Jones added 16 points on 22 shots.

Pasco (19-9) led early 23-9, but the Sharks tightened up on the glass and led by five before Roberts' 4-point play helped pull Pasco within 37-34 at the half.

After giving up no offensive rebounds in the second quarter and scoring 25 points, the Sharks surrendered four such boards in the first 90 seconds of the third, and a Roberts 3 had Pasco ahead by six midway through the quarter. Nature Coast only scored seven in the quarter but got four key points from Harris late to draw within 47-44.

Back-to-back baskets by Jarque and Jones had Nature Coast ahead 25 seconds into the fourth, setting the stage for the wild finish.

"Oh my goodness, yes," Pasco coach Troy Moore said when asked if that was the craziest game this season. "Especially with so much at stake. The seniors really wanted this district title."

So did Moore. It meant so much that he agreed, as promised, to join the players' dance. That would be the one where they gather around center court and freestyle. Only on Friday Moore was the star in the center.

"That dance is just the silliest thing, but I told them I'd do it if we won district," he said. "It's better than cutting my eyebrows or something like that. And I got to show 'em the old man has some moves."

Class 7A-8: Wiregrass Ranch, down by as many as 10 points to Steinbrenner late in the third quarter, had come back in the fourth to make a game of it. But on perhaps the Bulls' most important possessions of the night, their old problem reared its ugly head once again.

Wiregrass Ranch got behind early after committing nine turnovers in the first quarter alone, but curbed the miscues in the second half to close the gap. Twice the Bulls had the ball with less than a minute to go in the game, down by just two points.

Both times they were called for traveling before even getting a shot off, and Steinbrenner held on to win its second district title in three years, 44-42.

Steinbrenner (24-3) began the season — its fifth as a program — on a 12-game win streak before Wiregrass Ranch snapped it on Dec. 17 with a 49-41 victory on its home court. The Bulls were the only team in a tough district to hand Steinbrenner a loss.

In the biggest game of the season so far, Wiregrass Ranch (26-2) wasn't as lucky.

"I'm proud of my girls for fighting, but we stunk in the first quarter and lost it there," Wiregrass Ranch coach John Gant said. "We gave it away early."

As the game progressed, Wiregrass Ranch, led by Logan Seoane's 18 points, had players in foul trouble. Bulls playing out of position might have contributed to his opponents' miscues, Steinbrenner coach JR Allen said. But whatever the reason, the Warriors took advantage of the extra help.

Guard Taylor Thigpen, was aggressive on defense, forcing a Wiregrass Ranch turnover with just more than a minute to go in a one-possession game. She was equally as aggressive on her drives to the basket. Thigpen scored 21 of Steinbrenner's 42 points.

Class 5A-8: Dynasty is becoming a fitting word to describe Gulf's run over the past decade. With eight postseason berths and seven district titles in the past 10 years, the Buccaneers have shown no signs of slowing.

Gulf captured another district crown Friday, beating Land O'Lakes 57-38 at home.

"It means a lot to carry on the tradition because I have so much of pride in our school and respect for (former coach) Mike Quarto," Gulf coach Clare Ennis said. "…As a school and a community, we have a lot of support. We had full stands tonight. It's a level of pride."

Early jitters led to the Gators (20-4) taking an 8-5 lead.

"Our intensity and our focus changed," Ennis said. "Even though we've been here before, most of our starters hadn't been the focal point in a district title game. Once they settled in, everything was different."

Then things changed drastically. The score was 27-18 by halftime and the Bucs (22-3) stretched the lead until the final horn.

Land O'Lakes hung with Gulf in the first regular-season meeting, falling 33-30. Things became more convincing the second time around with the Buccaneers winning 48-30. Those contests might have provided some information for the Gators, who started in a zone defense to try to limit Gulf standout Kayla Kivinski.

The defense then switched to man-to-man before eventually trying to double-team Gulf's leading scorer. But the Gators could not contain Kivinski and senior teammates Jalena Hawkins and Shaidal McCray.

The victory sets the stage for Gulf's return to the state playoffs, where the Bucs are 8-7 in the past decade, never having advanced past the region finals.

"We're playing this season in chapters," Ennis said. "Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) at Duke wrote a book about setting up small goals for each chapter of the season. These girls come to work and ready to achieve every day."

Class 6A-10: Dixie Hollins didn't just win the district final on Friday. The school recorded its first district girls title in any sport.

The Rebels earned that distinction by beating Mitchell for the third time this season, 58-36.

The game's outcome could hardly be in doubt after the first quarter, with Dixie Hollins (18-5) holding a 16-7 lead and Mitchell (14-11) looking outmatched.

Meagan Thomas scored the Rebels' first 14 points, nine off 3-pointers, and the Rebels led the visiting Mustangs 28-16 at the break. Thomas led all scorers with 39 points.

Class 2A-8: Keswick Christian had no problem with any of its district teams this season, and Friday's final was no different. The Crusaders eased past Hernando Christian 45-11 for their first title since 2010. Ashley Bohl had 11 points to lead Keswick, which had 10 players score.

Times staff writer Kelly Parsons and correspondents Derek J. LaRiviere and Anthony Salveggi contributed to this report.

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