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) on Thursday. 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.
The Hurricanes scored the first six points in the second quarter and held a 23-8 lead. After Julia Ingram hit a 3-pointer and Megan Ingram hit two layups, it was 30-10 Hurricanes midway through the second.
Megan Ingram hit a layup in the final second of the second quarter to give PHU a comfortable 36-15 halftime lead. She scored all of her game-high 16 points in the first half.
"When we're all clicking together it helps all of us do better," Megan Ingram said. "We were playing very well on defense, and that sparks our offense. That's been our focus late in the season, play defense so we can get some offense."
There wasn't much scoring in the second half, but for PHU there didn't need to be. The Hurricanes only scored eight third-quarter points but held the Panthers to only five.
PHU led 44-20 after three quarters and started to empty its bench.
The Hurricanes are one step closer to their goal of a state championship.
"Somebody has to be the state champion, why not us?," Megan Ingram said.
8A: St. Petersburg rolls without standout
RIVERVIEW — St. Petersburg learned Tuesday that it would be without Jordan Berenbaum, one of its top players, after the senior forward suffered a concussion in the district final loss to Palm Harbor University.
But in Thursday's Class 8A region quarterfinal against Riverview, however, St. Petersburg's defense hardly missed a beat.
The Green Devils (20-6) harassed the Sharks (15-8) into 29 turnovers, 19 coming in the first half, with a suffocating fullcourt press to win 55-39 and advance to the region semifinals for just the third time in school history. St. Petersburg will get a rematch against PHU.
"I think the defense was the key," St. Petersburg coach Tamika Coley said. "Our defense kind of brought up our offense and saved us in really tough moments when we had meltdowns on offense."
St. Petersburg opened a 19-6 lead as Angel Brown scored six of her team-high 12 points in the first quarter. The Green Devils pushed the advantage to 11 behind Michael LaShon-Everhart's 3-pointer and a pair of free throws from Tiara Myrick.
Riverview, though, went on an 8-2 run to end the half and trailed by only five points. The Sharks got as close as four on Kierra Haywood's basket with 6:35 remaining in the third quarter but they that was as close as they got.
St. Petersburg pulled away late in the third as a pair of Simone Wilson free throws and a basket from Brinesha Myrick gave the Green Devils a 42-31 advantage.
"We didn't play a clean game, Riverview coach Gerard Batista said. "It was probably the worst game we've played as far as taking care of the ball."
Haywood kept Riverview in the game with a 17-point, 13-rebound effort.
St. Petersburg got balanced scoring. In addition to Brown's 12 points, Victoria Uhatafe and Wilson each had eight and LaShon-Everhart scored seven.
"It was big for the other girls to kind of step up (in Berenbaum's absence) and play their role," Coley said. "They played well as a team."
7A: Clearwater bows to Lakewood Ranch
CLEARWATER — Too much talent and, more important, too much size.
Little went right for Clearwater against a Bradenton Lakewood Ranch squad that sprinted to a 77-47 victory in a Class 7A region quarterfinal.
The Tornadoes (22-3) led 14-9 after one quarter. But freshman LaDazhia Williams (27 points on 11 of 16 shooting, 13 rebounds) turned the tide and created the blowout on both ends of the court for Lakewood Ranch (21-7).
"She's a Division I post player for a reason, and she showed that (last night)," Clearwater coach Paul Lang said. "She sits under the basket in their zone and affects everything in the paint. Obviously our goal is to work inside, but with players like (Williams), we kind of have to take what the defense gives us."
"LaDazhia took over," said Mustangs coach Tina Hadley. "We definitely had the rebounding advantage (48 to 31), and we weren't content to let (Clearwater) shoot."
The Tornadoes were crippled by early foul trouble to standout Deja Blunt (eight points, four rebounds). With Blunt on the bench with four fouls, Lakewood Ranch had a 13-2 run. And after the senior fouled out with 1:13 left in the third quarter, the Mustangs scorched Clearwater 31-18.
"We're not used to playing without her," Lang said. "That's the first time she's been in foul trouble all season."
Now, the Tornadoes will have to prepare for life without future grads Blunt and Alex Alford (17 points, six assists and five steals).
"Our goal this year was the district championship, and we got that," Land said. "The regionals were just gravy. We had so much fun this year, at practice and in the games, and that's what basketball is all about."
6A: Dixie Hollins turns back Hillsborough
ST. PETERSBURG — Meagan Thomas delivered again, and Hannah Rizzo proved an unlikely hero with a clinching shot as Dixie Hollins defeated Hillsborough 50-48 in their Class 6A region quarterfinal.
The Terriers (17-12) looked like they would deny the Rebels (19-5) their first playoff win after Aejona Chambers and Khoi Wilson scored to give Hillsborough a 46-42 lead with 1:05 remaining.
Thomas was fouled on a 3-pointer and sank all three free throws to pull within 46-45. Thomas forced a tie-up on the defensive end to get Dixie Hollins the ball back with less than 40 seconds.
On the next possession, Thomas, who had five assists to go with her 38 points, passed to Haley Martz under the basket. But Martz failed to convert and the ball ended up in Rizzo's hands. She banked in a jumper to give the Rebels a 47-46 lead.
Thomas added two free throws to extend the lead, and Wilson converted a layup with 7.5 seconds left to cut it to 49-48.
Thomas hit the front end of a one-and-one and Hillsborough failed to get the ball down the court with four seconds left.
Times correspondents Bryan Burns, Corey Long and Chuck Frye contributed to this report.