It wasn't supposed to end like this, Osceola center Sonia Randle thought. Not this time, not this year. Randle, the Warriors' only three-year varsity starter, is well aware of her school's history of being close but not close enough in the Class 3A, District 11 girls basketball tournament. This was the year for that to end, she said.
This was one of Osceola's most successful among five consecutive 20-plus-win seasons. The Warriors were ranked third in the state early on _ their highest ranking ever.
"I thought we could win this more than any other," Osceola coach Tom Shaneyfelt said of the district tournament.
Randle did too, but against a taller and more balanced Bradenton Southeast squad in Saturday night's 3A-11 title game, she could not defy what is becoming an unflattering Osceola tradition.
In losing 42-37, Osceola was eliminated in a district semifinal or final for the fourth consecutive season. Last year, the Warriors fell to Southeast in the semis, and the two years before that Gibbs and Lakewood beat them in the final.
When this fourth district KO floored Osceola, many seemed to sense that Randle, a junior, would take it hard. Teammates, fans and friends comforted her as she sat on the bench. The junior scored only six points but had 10 rebounds before fouling out with 56 seconds left.
Randle at first suppressed what she was feeling, perhaps trying not to let The Streak have the satisfaction of knowing it had got to her once again. But when she saw Lakewood players Nikki Mitchell and Tonya Williams, she lost it.
Mitchell and Williams, whose team had been eliminated by Osceola in the semifinals, left quickly. Only time, not words, could cure Randle's bout with disappointment. After a talk with Shaneyfelt and the rest of the team, the teary-eyed Randle emerged from the locker room to speak.
Randle struggled to complete the simplest of sentences; the tears still gathered in her eyes.
"We wanted it this time," she said. "I mean, the other two times we wanted it too, but not as much as this time."
Matched up against Southeast's frontline of six-footers, the 5-11 Randle could spare no effort. She, along with power forward Yataye Keaton, banged with Southeast's Keira Rozier and Teressa Martin at both ends.
Even though Martin and Rozier only outscored Randle and Keaton 17 to 14, their baskets were decisive. They held the Osceola pair to two points in the crucial fourth quarter. Randle finally fouled out with just under a minute to go and her team down by six, 40-34.
"I was just trying too hard," Randle said. "I was pushing too hard.
"I was sitting on the bench, and there was nothing I could do. I was wishing I was out there and that there was something I could do."
There wasn't _ at least not for another year. With one season left in her high school career, Randle said there is nothing left for her to do except try even harder. Sooner or later, she said, Osceola's district disasters have to end.
"Next year, I'm going to really work my butt off," she said. "This has just made me even more determined.
"From now until next year, we're going to be working."
Pinellas Park turns teamwork into 4A-7 title
PINELLAS PARK _ Angela Meiser's three successive three-pointers led the comeback, but Ed Jackson said the Patriots' 67-63 win over Clearwater in the Class 4A, District final Saturday was a victory for the team concept.
"We're a team, not a few individuals," Pinellas Park coach Jackson said. "The young kids did everything we asked. We knew if we could keep it around 10 points, we just needed a spark."
"Our composure is due to our organization," Jackson said. "We want to get there (the state final four) again, and this time it's more of a business trip."
Pinellas Park (31-1) plays at Sarasota Riverview Tuesday night for the Region IV title. Regional winners advance to sectionals, sectional winners to the final four.
The Patriots played the tournament without starter Paula Wukits, who was sick with the flu. "That's 15-plus points a game we're missing," said Jackson, adding that he expects Wukits to play Tuesday.
_ KEVIN BLOWERS
CCC defense earns praise from vanquished
ST. PETERSBURG _ Sarasota-Cardinal Mooney's leading scorer, guard Kate Hallman, ended her high school career with 1,060 points. She scored more than 400 this season. Yet she had only six Saturday, and Clearwater Central Catholic crushed the Cougars 49-33 in the 2A-11 championship.
"I'm not ashamed at all of how we played," Hallman said. "They played excellent defense all night."
_ MIKE PHILLIPS