LUTZ — Playing in front of a rowdy home crowd, Steinbrenner held a 12-point lead late in the third quarter against Harmony. Its first trip to the state semifinals seemed almost like a foregone conclusion.
"I was very comfortable," coach JR Allen said.
"You've got to love your chances when you're the home team and you have a 12-point lead."
But Harmony rallied, winning the Class 7A region final 44-40 and ending Steinbrenner's deepest run in school history.
"That's a very well-coached team right there; probably better coached than we are," Harmony coach Paul Strauch said of Steinbrenner. "I guess the third time is the magic number for us."
It was the third straight trip to the region final for Harmony (26-3), which lost to Haines City the previous two times.
"Every single year, we've progressed a further step," Allen said.
"Now we have to find a way to get to the (state semifinals). That's the next step."
Steinbrenner (26-4) lead 17-14 at the half and extended its margin to 30-18 on a free throw by Taylor Thigpen in the final minute of the third quarter.
But Harmony chipped away, and Rebekah Fitzpatrick's 3-pointer from the corner with 2:21 left gave it the lead for good at 36-35.
"We tried to hit the home run a lot in our offense (in the fourth)," Allen said. "We got away from what was working for us."
Trailing 42-37, Steinbrenner's Olivia Unger connected on a 3-pointer from the top of the key with six seconds to play. But Alex Sikoryak made both ends of a one-and-one with 4.9 seconds left to seal the win.
Unger had a team-high 10 points while teammate Tiffani Brazell came off the bench to score nine. The Warriors' Courtney Hall finished with a game-high eight rebounds, and Brazell and Rachel Briere had three steals.
6A: Armwood's rally comes up just short
NAPLES — Armwood ran into a suffocating defense that snuffed out hopes for its first state semifinal berth, falling 47-40 to Barron Collier.
Trailing by 13 entering the fourth, the Hawks got to within four with 3:33 left. But Barron Collier made its free throws over the final two minutes. Armwood finished 26-5, its second-most wins in school history.
"Barron came out with a lot of energy. We pride ourselves on playing with energy, too, but we just couldn't live up to it," Armwood coach Patrick Kelly said. "The girls played well in the second half. A lot of teams would've folded if they were down by 13 like us. But we didn't fold."
Kiana King led the Hawks with 12 points.
"Barron played a lot of run-and-jump, and we were ready for it," Kelly said. "But we panicked a little bit; playing a great team in a hostile environment."
Elizah Pagkanlugan led Barron Collier (21-7) with 17 points, including six free throws during the fourth quarter.
The game was mostly up-tempo. The Cougars took a 10-3 lead after Pagkanlungan's steal and layup with 3:09 left in the first. Barron Collier led 14-8 after the first quarter.
The second quarter was scoreless until 3:05 left. The Cougars took a 22-14 lead into the locker room. Barron Collier kept up its intensity on defense in the third, limiting the Hawks to three baskets to lead by 13 points afterward.
Thomas P. Corwin, special to the Times, contributed to this report.