CLEARWATER — Tampa Catholic forward Sarah Brennan had a look of relief on her face after the Crusaders' dramatic 66-59 win over Clearwater on Monday night.
"Oh, my gosh, that was so close," she said.
Closer, certainly, than the score would indicate.
With 7:36 left, Tampa Catholic (3-0) led by 21. With 2:43 left, the Crusaders were ahead by only three after a spectacular Tornadoes rally had many in attendance on their feet. But if Clearwater's surge was impressive, so too was Tampa Catholic's resilience.
Instead of folding, the Crusaders pulled it together.
And just in the nick of time.
Two Meghan Keough free throws quickly moved Tampa Catholic back ahead by five, and after a Brennan layup at the 1:57 mark, the lead was eight — all but thwarting Clearwater's comeback attempt.
"I'm proud that we could hold it together," Brennan said. "To let them come that close and still keep our cool is big."
Colette Eule led TC with 22, while Brennan had 15. Keough and Micah Kroll added 12 each.
"I'm very proud of the kids," Tampa Catholic coach Nancy Kroll said. "I think we're starting to jell. This is a great win for us."
Clearwater (2-1) got 16 points from Latrel Kirkland, 15 from Victoria Cecil, 11 from Taylor Borucki and 10 from Tyra Bolden, each of whom played particularly well in the final quarter during the Tornadoes' run. The problem for Clearwater was that for three quarters, it struggled on both ends while the Crusaders excelled in every phase.
"They really came in and took it to us," Tornadoes coach Tom Shaneyfelt said. "We lost the game in the first half."