LARGO — Talk about an effective way to prepare for the season's stretch run.
Steinbrenner honed its crunch-time skills at the Indian Rocks Christian girls basketball tournament. The Warriors hit a last-second winner Friday to reach the finals, then beat Sarasota 34-33 Saturday with a defensive stand in the final seconds. It was Steinbrenner's first-ever holiday crown.
"We're now 4-1 in games like this, games down to the wire," Warriors coach J.R. Allen said. "The bottom line is, we're not a great, dynamic scoring team, but if you can understand and rely that you're going to be great on defense, then I guess you have to be okay with it."
The Warriors (19-2) were stingy at IRC, giving up 96 points in three games, but they saved their best for the fourth quarter against the Sailors (15-3).
After all-tournament pick Camille Giardina (12 points) led an 11-0 run that drew Sarasota even going into the fourth quarter, both defenses rose up. Only nine points combined were scored in the final eight minutes, but center Rachel Briere shook off a tough start to score 10 of her team-best 12 points in the second half, including a layup off Tiffani Brazell's deft inbounds pass to put the Warriors up with 2:11 left.
Sarasota got its last chance, but Taylor Thigpen (10 points) capped a tourney-MVP effort by harrying Zharia Grable's 3-pointer that clanged off the iron at the buzzer.
"The four of us — me, Rachel, Courtney (Hall) and Olivia (Unger) — we've been playing together at school and AAU for the past five years," Thigpen said. "We have a lot of team chemistry."
"In all honesty, our offense is never easy," said Briere, who was also named to the all-tourney team. "I don't want to say our defense saves us, but it's pretty much what causes us to win games like this."
In the third-place game, Savannah Plentovich hit a couple of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter en route to a 17-point effort that gave Calvary Christian a 48-39 victory over Indian Rocks Christian. IRC was led by Autumn Frost's 18 points.