ST. PETERSBURG — A week ago, Palm Harbor University won its first PCAC championship by outlasting St. Petersburg in overtime. Friday night, in the same gym, the Hurricanes defeated the Green Devils 44-40 to win the school's first ever district championship.
The win sets up a Class 8A regional quarterfinal, Thursday at home against Plant. It also means the Hurricanes will get to hang a banner in their gym.
"The girls have been wanting a banner for a long time," PHU coach Darian Dublin said.
It was clear PHU (23-3) was going to have to work hard to get past St. Petersburg in their fourth meeting this season.
PHU led 31-19 early in the third quarter, but St. Petersburg (20-6) roared back with a 15-2 run including layups from Angel Brown, Lazasha Baskins and Simone Wilson. By the end of the third quarter it was tied at 34.
"We kind of got out of control and made some bad passes to let them back in the game," Dublin said. "St. Petersburg did exactly what it was supposed to do."
PHU took a 38-36 lead on two Chardonay Aldrich free throws with just over two minutes to play. Aldrich then made a layup to make it 40-36, but Michael LaShon-Everhart came right back with a 3-pointer to make it 40-39.
The Hurricanes hit three of four free throws to make it 43-40 with 5 seconds left. St. Petersburg tried an inbounds pass at halfcourt, but the ball was stolen by Aldrich, who was fouled. She made one of two free throws to end the game.
"I just guarded my man closely and got a hand on the ball," Aldrich said. "All I wanted to do was play defense until the buzzer rings."
The Green Devils play at Riverview in next week's region quarterfinal.
Class 6A-10: Dixie Hollins didn't just win. 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 outcome was hardly in doubt after the first quarter, with Dixie Hollins (18-5) up 16-7 and Mitchell (14-11) looking outmatched.
Meagan Thomas scored the Rebels' first 14 points, nine off 3-pointers. Haley Martz added six first-half field goals, and the Rebels led the visiting Mustangs 28-16 at the break.
Dixie led by 19 after three quarters. Thomas didn't let up, with seven and 10 points, respectively, in the third and fourth quarters. She led all scorers with 39 points, 18 from 3-point shots. The senior has already topped the 2,000-point mark in her high school career.
Dixie Hollins coach Kelley Jones said she was speechless, but still found some words.
"It's something we've talked about since Day 1," she said of earning the title. "They have worked so hard. It's amazing."
Class 7A-9: Though Northeast hit its preseason target, there still was another to aim for: an upset of Clearwater.
"It was a goal of ours all year to get to the district finals," Vikings coach William White said. "We got the school record for most wins with 21, and the girls went all-in all season."
That commitment and a quirky defense sparked by Laura Fizell (eight points) got Northeast a nice lead in Friday's final, but standout guard Alex Alford carried the Tornadoes with a stellar fourth quarter on the way to Clearwater's 47-40 victory at Seminole.
A 1-3-1 zone and a strong low-post game from Madison Schmidt (11 points and 13 rebounds) and two key third-quarter hoops from Haleigh Myers (seven points) helped Northeast (21-8) to a 34-25 lead with 7:20 left.
Enter Alford, who ran out of patience with her patient approach on offense and got sound advice from a relative.
"I heard my brother on the sidelines saying, 'Don't let their defense set up, just push the ball.' Northeast played a heck of a game but then we finally matched up with their energy and effort."
After draining a deep 3-pointer to start the comeback, Alford had a five-point run to put Clearwater (22-3) on top to stay with 2:21 left. She had 11 of her game-high 18 points in the final eight minutes, and Deja Blunt had six of her 11 points (she also had 10 rebounds) as the Tornadoes, who used just six players, pulled it out.
"To be down going into the fourth quarter and fight back to win, that's what you've got to do to survive and advance in the tournament," Clearwater coach Paul Lang said. "That's what we did."
Class 5A-10: Instead, the Gladiators (11-12) got off to a slow start and never recovered in a 54-32 loss to top seed Bradenton Southeast. It was the third straight loss to the Seminoles, who went undefeated in the district.
"We got into some early foul trouble and Southeast shot its free throws exceptionally well," Gibbs coach Ed Jackson said. "From then on we were trying to play catch-up and you can't do that against a good team like that."
Class 3A-9: Calvary Christian built a 20-point first quarter lead, led by 32 at halftime and eased past Admiral Farragut 51-25. As usual, the Warriors were led by sophomores Carley Plentovich (22 points) and Savannah Plentovich (19). Charlisa Jenkins had eight for the Blue Jackets.
Calvary Christian (21-4) will host Sarasota Out-of-Door Academy on Thursday in the region quarterfinals.
"We've got a few days to practice and get ready for the regionals," Calvary coach Brooke Sibert said. "Now is where it really counts."
Class 2A-8: Keswick Christian had no problem with any of its district teams this season, and Friday night's final was no different. The Crusaders eased past Hernando Christian 45-11 for their first district title since 2010.
Ashley Bohl had 11 points to lead Keswick. The Crusaders had 10 players score.
"We spread out the points very well," Keswick coach Karrmayne King said.
Keswick hosts Cambridge Christian on Thursday night in the region quarterfinal.
Times correspondents Chuck Frye and Anthony Salveggi contributed to this report.