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Panthers escape Kathleen in 3A-8

Lakeland Kathleen employed a slowdown game against state-ranked Plant in the first round of the Class 3A, District 8 girls basketball tournament Thursday, and the tactic almost brought the Red Devils an upset victory. Kathleen cut a 13-8 halftime deficit to 21-19 through three quarters and drew even in the fourth quarter. But with the score tied at 32 and one minute to play, Teresa Stokes got free for a layup to put the Panthers ahead. Amy Bagby clinched Plant's 36-32 win by sinking two free throws with two seconds on the clock.

Stokes scored 13 points and Bagby 12 for Plant, 18-3 and ranked No. 9 in the state 3A poll. The Red Devils finished their season at 6-14.

Plant coach Pam Blanford said the game's deliberate speed made it tough for her team to settle into its offense.

"We're used to a lot faster pace," Blanford said. "Tonight we were real sluggish. They made us play their kind of game. We had some problems getting the ball inside and had some trouble running it."

In Thursday's other 3A-8 tournament games, Tampa Bay Vo-Tech held off Robinson 49-45, Auburndale defeated Lake Wales 77-66, and top-seeded Haines City downed Bartow 56-46.

Auburndale meets Plant in a district semifinal tonight at 6 p.m., and Vo-Tech faces Haines City (25-5) at 8. The district championship game is Saturday at 8.