Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Region girls basketball: Strawberry Crest ousts Wiregrass Ranch


TAMPA — As Strawberry Crest played Wiregrass Ranch in a Class 7A region quarterfinal Thursday, a poster-sized pad in the corner of the Chargers' gymnasium counted down from 16.

Senior guard Aliyah Gregory came into the game with 1,984 points, and with a 3-pointer at the 2:30 mark of the second quarter, the UCF commit became the first Charger to notch 2,000 career points.

But it was another pair of baskets that night that meant a little bit more to Gregory.

Strawberry Crest and Wiregrass Ranch passed the lead back and forth throughout the fourth quarter, but with 15.5 seconds left, the Bulls down by just three, Wiregrass Ranch was called for an offensive foul. Bulls coach John Gant, reacting to the call, was given a technical, and Gregory had the chance to all but end the game with a pair of free throws.

"I told Aliyah, 'We need to drain them. For us to seal the game, we've got to have them,' " Strawberry Crest coach La'Tosha Lewis said. "Free throws are a key to winning a game."

Gregory sunk them, and Strawberry Crest won 56-51, advancing to the region semifinals.

Turnovers plagued the Bulls in their district championship loss to Steinbrenner last Friday. And from the start of Thursday's playoff game, it appeared Wiregrass Ranch hadn't learned from its past mistakes. The Bulls, who finished with 30 turnovers, turned the ball over nine times in the first quarter alone.

Strawberry Crest, meanwhile, took advantage of the extra opportunities and with the help of Gregory's 18 first-half points, took a 31-21 lead into the break.

In the third quarter, though, Wiregrass proved it wasn't quite ready for its season to be over.

Logan Seoane, who led the Bulls with 18 points, scored eight immediately after the break, and Wiregrass Ranch outscored the Chargers 21-10 in the third quarter, adding a quick layup at the buzzer to take the lead.

Terra Brooks scored seven in the fourth quarter to help Strawberry Crest stay alive before Gregory sealed the deal at the stripe. Gregory, who led the Chargers with 22 points, hit a milestone in the first half.

"I don't care if I score zero points," Gregory said. "As long as we win, that's all I care about.

7A: Steinbrenner survives a scare

LUTZ — With most teams in this situation, Steinbrenner coach J.R. Allen would have been nervous.

His Warriors had given up a nine-point lead in the final 3:04, missed seven of their last 11 free throws and saw Tampa Bay Tech drain two 3-pointers to force overtime in the Class 7A region quarterfinals. But this isn't a normal Steinbrenner team.

"This team that I'm coaching right now is a very resilient group of kids," Allen said.

Allen's group showed it Thursday. Tiffani Brazell sank two free throws with 12.2 seconds left to help the Warriors escape with a 41-40 victory.

TBT (22-6) held the Warriors (25-3) without a field goal for the first 5 1/2 minutes, and Titans center Brianna Thomas's seven points put her team ahead early.

Warriors sophomore Courtney Hall scored seven of her team-high 11 points during a 14-2 run midway through the first half as Steinbrenner seized control until the final minutes of regulation.

TBT trailed 36-27 midway through the fourth quarter before making its run. Shakela Smith followed her runner with two free throws, and Tisha Nelson swished a 3-pointer from the top of the key to cut the deficit to 36-34.

"They weren't going to give it to us at all," Brazell said.

Brazell's free throw on the next possession set up a tying 3-pointer by Nelson with 15.5 seconds left to force overtime.

TBT's Tyra Mack made a free throw with 24 seconds left to give the Titans a 40-39 lead, but Steinbrenner had one final push.

Brazell was fouled going for a rebound and went to the line with 12.2 seconds left. "I've got to get it done," she said.

She calmly drained both free throws to give her team the lead. And when TBT inbounded the ball for the final time with two seconds left, it bounced to Brazell, who sprinted the ball down the court to push her team to its second consecutive region semifinal.

6A: Terriers come up just a bit short

ST. PETERSBURG — Meagan Thomas delivered again for Dixie Hollins, and Hannah Rizzo proved an unlikely hero with a game-clinching shot as the Rebels defeated Hillsborough 50-48 in their Class 6A region quarterfinal.

The Terriers (17-12) looked like they would deny the Rebels their first playoff win after Aejona Chambers and Khoi Wilson scored to take a 46-42 lead with 1:05 remaining.

Thomas was fouled on a 3-pointer and calmly nailed all three free throws to pull within 46-45. Thomas forced a tie on the defensive end to get Dixie the ball back with under 40 seconds.

On the next possession Thomas, who had five assists to go with her 38 points, passed the ball to Haley Martz under the basket, but Martz failed to convert and the ball ended up in Rizzo's hands. She banked a jump shot to give the Rebels (19-5) a 47-46 lead.

Thomas added two free throws, and Wilson converted a layup with 7.5 seconds left to make it 49-48. Thomas strategically hit the front end of a one-and-one.

Wlison lead Hillsborough with 15 points and Chambers added 13.

6A: Armwood tops limping Mitchell

SEFFNER — For Armwood, it is time to move on to the next challenge. For Mitchell, a season of what could have been ended.

Armwood (25-4) cruised to a 56-30 victory against injury-riddled Mitchell (14-12) in a Class 6A region quarterfinal.

Alyssa Nieves scored 20, Kiana King 14 and Keaundra Ivory 12 as Armwood led all the way. The Hawks shot only 29 percent (22 of 75), but the Mustangs had more turnovers (42) than field-goal attempts (31).

"We've got to tighten up all those inside shots we missed," Armwood coach Patrick Kelly said. "We counted at least 10 breakaway layups or fastbreak layups that we missed. The competition is going to get stiffer as we go, and those shots are going to count. The effort was there, but not the execution."

Nieves got all her points on field goals, including four 3-pointers.

The Mustangs were plagued by injuries throughout the season: Hannah Kriston (broken foot) and Regan Petika (high ankle sprain) were limited, and point guard Kim Knudsen also missed time.

Class 3A: For the sixth time this season, Seffner Christian beat an opponent by at least 50 points, when the Crusaders topped Lakeland Christian 81-21.

Sabrina Whiting led the Crusaders with 22 points. And even though Seffner Christian pulled away early, coach Greg Fawbush said his team never lost concentration. Fawbush pulled his starters for the rest of the game two minutes into the second half. The reserves scored 23 points in the rest of the game, even with a running clock.

"Everybody focused, from the best player, to the last girl on the bench," he said. "They all seem to be on the same page now."

Seffner Christian, in the hunt for its first state title, will host Fort Meade — a 43-24 winner over Carrollwood Day — on Tuesday.

Class 2A: Keswick Christian had no trouble with Cambridge Christian in a regular-season game back in November, and the it had no trouble in the rematch. Keswick led 30-5 at halftime and cruised to a 50-22 win.

Times staff writer Matt Baker and correspondents Don Jensen and Corey Long contributed to this report.

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