DADE CITY — The last time the Gators made the playoffs, they couldn't be stopped until the region finals. Now they're on track to do it again.
Land O'Lakes powered to a 39-34 win over Pasco after trailing in three quarters in Thursday's Class 4A region quarterfinal. The Gators added 21 points in the fourth quarter to steal the win.
"We had two halves of basketball to play," Land O'Lakes coach Phyllis Crain told her team at halftime.
After a scoreless second quarter, the Gators were behind 17-9 going into the second half. They tried to catch up in the third but were still six points behind when the clock ran out.
Crain said the Gators changed their defensive strategy going into the second half.
"Brianca (Roberts) is a heck of a player," Crain said. Roberts, a Pasco point guard, led the night in scoring with 19 points.
Land O'Lakes' Makala Canada hit a 3 with just over two minutes left in the game, tying the score at 32 and bringing fans on both sides to their feet.
Roberts charged back after Canada's 3 to draw the Pirates ahead again. Just over a minute remained.
The Gators weren't finished, though. Taylor McDonald shot from under the basket to tie again.
Land O'Lakes took the lead — and the win — with five free throws. Pamela Andrade sank her first of the game to give the Gators their first lead. Canada and Andrade added four more, and Land O'Lakes earned its spot in the semis.
Canada and McDonald led Land O'Lakes' attack with 12 points each. Andrade had eight.
The Gators face NCT in the next round. The Sharks defeated a tough Gulf team, 58-55, to advance.
"Hopefully we can come back," Crain said. "That's an awesome win for Nature Coast."
5A: Sharks hold off hard-charging Bucs
NEW PORT RICHEY — Nature Coast held off a furious comeback attempt to win 58-55 at Gulf on Thursday. The Sharks (20-4) advance to the Class 5A region semis Tuesday at Land O'Lakes.
Ahead by as many as 13 and still up nine midway through the fourth quarter, Nature Coast needed two big baskets late from sophomore Latavea Sesler. And when they missed two front ends of one-and-ones late, the Sharks saw Gulf with a chance to force overtime.
But a scrambling Gulf could only manage a long shot inside the 3-point arc.
Kayla Kivinski (18 points) and Jalena Hawkins (13) led an emotionally-charged Bucs' effort in the second half.
"We needed to have that (emotion) from the start, and we didn't," said Kivinski, the most prolific of five senior starters who saw their careers end.
All of Hawkins' scoring came in the second half, as two fouls in the game's first minute gave her an early seat.
Gulf coach Clare Ennis thought Hawkins was "targeted" by one official.
"The same one called all three fouls on her. I know it's being blunt," Ennis said. "Officials should be facilitators, not neutralizers. It should be about the game of basketball, not hand-checking."
The Bucs (20-4) were called for six fouls in the first three minutes, then none for the next 10 — and it was on Hawkins, sending her back to the pine after 1:48.
Nature Coast had issues, too. Three players were on the court with four fouls late, including point guard Fatima Jones (18 points) and forward Rita Jarque, who scored 16 along with 15 rebounds.
"It was a miracle no one fouled out," Sharks coach Emily Gore said. "We had to play as smart a second half of basketball as you can."
Jarque scored eight as Nature Coast led 17-11 after one quarter, and the margin grew to 26-13 before Gulf's Ali Cochrane scored the first seven of a remarkable run: 11 points in 55 seconds that pulled Gulf within 27-24 at halftime.
Nature Coast shook that off, starting the third quarter with a 13-3 spurt with Emmalee Harris getting seven points. When Jones went coast-to-coast, the Sharks led 50-41 with 4:35 remaining in the fourth. Gulf got back into it with six quick points, and when Hawkins converted an offensive rebound, Nature Coast led 52-51 with more than two minutes left.
"We kept our composure," Jarque said. "We knew Gulf was going to give us a game; they're a great team."
Gulf had two shots at the lead, but a steal by Jones led to Sesler's basket to make it 54-51. After Kivinski scored Sesler again came up big nailing a short jumper. Jones also converted two key free throws to that pushed the margin to five.
Mirandas Jones and Harris both scored 10 points for Nature Coast. Cochrane finished with 10, Syann Julian eight for Gulf.
"This is the end for a lot of girls," Ennis said. "They're going to hurt and you just have to let them go with that feeling. But then, they'll realize they are four-year district champs. They don't see that now."
2A: AATL gives coach a reason to stay
LAND O'LAKES — Academy at the Lakes coach Karim Nohra gave his players an ultimatum before their Class 2A region quarterfinal against Hernando Christian on Thursday night:
Play up to their utmost potential or he would leave and make them coach themselves.
Needless to say, Nohra kept his place on the bench the entire night. HCA proved to be nothing more than a speed bump for the Wildcats in a 72-18 rout to set up a semifinal with Keswick Christian on Tuesday at 7 p.m
"I told them from the get-go, from the first day we started practicing for Hernando (Christian), that you're going to win," Nohra said. "But I wanted things done the right way. I want things done how I taught you to do them and if you don't, I told them I would walk out on them."
AATL (20-5) took that threat and turned it into a near-flawless performance by putting the game out of reach within the first six minutes with a 24-0 run.
The second quarter wasn't any kinder to the Lions (10-16) as freshman Imani Thomas (22 points) and eighth-grader Audra Leipold (16) helped the Wildcats outscore HCA 21-7 to take a 43-point lead at the half.
"We had to get it through our heads that we've got to work hard," Thomas said. "We had to beat them. We had to go and get it done. …We didn't want him to walk off, so we had to play as hard as we could and he stayed."
With a running clock throughout the second half, Nohra pulled his starters and used the opportunity to get his bench some extra work.
Eighth-grader Taylor Polasky added 17 points for AATL, including three from 3-point range. HCA's Amelia Jackson finished with six.
8A: Plant withers versus Palm Harbor U.
PALM HARBOR — As his team warmed up for its Class 8A region quarterfinal against Plant, Palm Harbor University coach Darian Dublin figured his team was ready. By the time the first quarter ended, he knew it was.
The Hurricanes (24-3) jumped to an 11-point first-quarter lead and never looked back in a 46-35 win over the Panthers (17-13). The win sets up a fifth meeting with district rival St. Petersburg on Tuesday in the region semifinals.
"It's all about how we come out of the box," Dublin said. "In our warmups, we had a lot of energy. That spilled over into the game."
While Dublin could tell his team was prepared, Plant coach Carrie Mahon could tell her team was not.
"We weren't ready," Mahon said. "They wanted the game more than we wanted the game. They came out hard and strong, and we weren't ready for that."
The score was 4-4 after Plant's Maggie Ganther nailed a 15-footer. But after that, PHU went on a 13-0 run that included four points each from Amber Jennings and Megan Ingram.
"When we're all clicking together it helps all of us do better," Megan Ingram said.
Correspondents Darek Sharp and Jeff Odom contributed to this report.