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Gaither floats into 4A-III game to test Lakeland

Coach Leo Haggerty and his Gaither girls basketball team have their heads in the clouds after winning the Class 4A, District 6 championship Saturday night. "We still haven't hit the ground," Haggerty, whose team defeated Hillsborough 44-43 for the title, said Monday morning. "We're still riding this pony."

Haggerty might want to exchange that pony for a full-grown thoroughbred. Gaither's opponent in the 4A-Region III game tonight at 7:30 will be Lakeland (25-7).

The Dreadnaughts spent two weeks ranked as the No.

7 team in the state. They defeated Lakeland-Lake Gibson, the state's 10th-ranked team, 68-53 for the 4A-5 title Saturday night.

The Dreadnaughts are led by Angie Robinson _ who, Haggerty said, has been called the best player in the state _ and Carrin James. Robinson averaged 21 points and James 16.7 in the 4A-5 tournament.

"We have to play extremely well," Haggerty said. "We want the game in the 40s or 50s. They've got thoroughbreds, and we've got Clydesdales. In a half-court game, my Clydesdales do pretty well."

Gaither (10-11) entered the 4A-6 tournament as the No.

2 seed and advanced to the championship by defeating Chamberlain 45-42 in the semifinals Friday night. The Cowboys edged Hillsborough, the No.

1 seed, 44-43 of the title.

The Cowboys' semifinal win was keyed by Carlyn Esslinger and Jenni Boggs, who finished the tournament with 37 and 27 points, respectively.

In the win over Chamberlain, Esslinger scored 12 of her game-high 21 points in the fourth quarter as Gaither overcame a 29-26 deficit. Boggs finished the game with 16 points. She fed Esslinger for a layup that put the Cowboys on top 43-42, then hit two free throws with four seconds left.

In the championship game, the hero was Melinda Grant. Grant finished with just six points, but her running jumper with just under two minutes left gave Gaither the lead that became the final score.

The winner of tonight's contest meets the winner of the Region IV game, between Sarasota Riverview (25-4) and Pinellas Park (31-1).

GAME AT A GLANCE

What: Class 4A, Region III girls basketball championship

Who: Class 4A, District 6 champion Gaither (10-11) vs. Class 4A, District 6 champion Gaither (10-11) vs. Class 4A,District 5 champion Lakeland (24-7)

Where and when: Gaither High, 7:30 p.m.

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