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Pinellas Park tops Riverview 75-71 for regional title

Pinellas Park needed a second-half surge and four crucial free throws from Angela Meiser and Shaunta Williams to win the Class 4A, Region IV championship 75-71 Tuesday night over Sarasota Riverview. It was the second straight come-from-behind win for the Patriots, who advance to Saturday's Section II title game against Lakeland at Pinellas Park. Last Saturday the Patriots trailed nearly the entire game before rallying to defeat Clearwater 67-63 for the District 7 crown.

This time, Pinellas Park (32-1) fell behind by as many as 11 points early in the second half, but rallied to regain the lead 57-56 with 7:11 to go on a Meiser jumper.

With the Patriots clinging to a 71-69 advantage and 37 seconds left, Williams buried a pair of free throws for a 73-69 Patriots lead. After a Riverview basket with seven seconds left made it 73-71, Meiser calmly sank two more free throws with five seconds remaining to seal the win.

"I told myself I've got to make them," said Meiser, who had a game-high 21 points.

Meiser and the rest of the Patriots were anything but calm in the first half. The Rams (25-5) picked the Patriots apart, scoring layup after layup.

With help from Pinellas Park turnovers, Riverview expanded its 18-17 first-quarter lead to 43-34 by the half.

"I think the kids were a little jittery tonight," Pinellas Park coach Ed Jackson said. "We just had to be a little more patient. We were too antsy."

The Patriots did just that, becoming more deliberate on offense until an 9-0 burst _ fueled by a Meiser three-pointer _ midway through the third period closed the Rams' lead from 11 points to two at 49-47.

With starter Antonette Preston (14 points) saddled with four fouls and forward Davhry Henderson out with five, Williams (18 points), Meiser and Paula Wukits (14 points despite the flu) took charge, carrying the Patriots on an 18-7 run at the end of the third quarter that spilled over into the fourth. The Patriots led by as many as seven before holding off the Rams at the end.

2A-VI: Hardee holds off CCC for 51-43 victory

WAUCHULA _ Senior center Kim Crawford scored eight points in the final three minutes as Wauchula-Hardee withstood a furious rally and downed Clearwater Central Catholic 51-43 in the Class 2A, Region VI girls basketball game Tuesday night.

The Wildcats, ranked No.8 in the Class 2A state poll with a 24-5 record, moved to the sectional game on Saturday night against Clermont. CCC, which entered the game rated No.3 in the state poll, finished the season with a 24-4 record.

In the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, the Marauders clawed back from a 15-point deficit and cut Hardee's lead to 36-35. But it was Hardee's senior captain Crawford who grabbed control. The leading scorer for the Wildcats converted four straight free throws and nailed two short jumpers to give the Wildcats a decisive 44-39 lead with 1:21 left.

"They (CCC) really played the best defense anyone has played on me all year," said Crawford, who is averaging 21.1 points per game.

Seniors Regan Durastantis and Nicole Gilliard hit seven consecutive free throws down the stretch to help the Wildcats stave off CCC's threat.

Hardee had built a 33-18 lead after three quarters. The Marauders were outscored 19-4 in the third quarter. Hardee held CCC scoreless for the first seven minutes of the second half.

"One bad quarter," CCC coach Dean Soles said, "Overall, we plyed well. But Hardee's big girl (Crawford) is a super athlete and was tough to handle."

Crawford scored a team high 19 points and grabbed 13 rebounds for Hardee. CCC was led Shelly Sanders with a game high 20 points.

_ Times correspondent Wayne McKnight contributed to this report.