LUTZ — This season's Spoto team isn't the same group that could regularly put up 80 points a game a year ago. But Class 4A, District 9 foe Steinbrenner also has shown it isn't comparable to the version of a year ago.
Last season, the Spartans put up 96 points on the first-year Warriors in a 30-point win. Friday, with second place in the district in the balance, Steinbrenner showed how far it has come.
Spoto held off the scrappy Warriors, riding the inside play of center Brianna Thomas down the stretch for a 56-50 win in Steinbrenner's regular-season home finale.
"Steinbrenner's come a long way since last year," Spoto coach Mareka Davis said. "It was like a tug-of-war. At some point, the girls didn't accept what was happening.
"(Steinbrenner's) level of confidence was high. We had to match their confidence. I don't think we expected that."
Thomas scored nine of her 15 points during the fourth quarter. The 5-foot-10 Thomas was a physical presence throughout the game, converting 9 of 12 free throws.
Point guard Chelsea White scored a game-high 18 points for the Spartans (11-5, 5-1).
The Spartans, region qualifiers last season, ran out to a quick 16-5 lead early in the second quarter, but Steinbrenner put together one of its several runs to close the gap.
A 3-pointer by Alexis Wright with 1:54 left in the half cut the lead to three, but Spoto went into the half with a 24-17 lead.
Steinbrenner (13-3, 5-2) again rallied early in the second half with a 12-4 run, capped by a baseline jumper by Baylee Hooker that made the score 30-29. But in the fourth, Spoto went inside to Thomas, who scored six of the quarter's first eight points.
Hooker, a sophomore, led the Warriors with 17 points. Wright, a junior, added nine, and freshman Taylor Thigpen, playing the point for her injured sister, Justice, scored seven.
"There weren't too many times after our 13 wins that we really felt good," Steinbrenner coach J.R. Allen said. "Strangely enough, I feel better after this loss than most of our other wins. The different in the game was just a bunch of missed (layups) at the rim."
Eduardo A. Encina can be reached at [email protected] .