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It's Zephyrhills, Citrus in 3A-9

The top two seeds will meet tonight in the finals of the Class 3A, District nine girls basketball tournament at Zephyrhills _ No. 1 Citrus and No. 2 Zephyrhills.

Citrus beat No. 4 land O'Lakes 52-36 and Zephyrhills sqeaked by No. 3 Hernando 57-54 in semifinal action Friday night. The championship game starts at 7 p.m.

While Citrus enjoyed a double-figure cushion for most of the second half against the Gators, Zephyrhills trailed by three with 3:41 to play in the tournament's most exciting game thus far.

Hernando (20-7), which trailed by as many as eight points in the second quarter, took a 44-42 lead when Shannon McKee hit a three-point basket to open the third quarter. Another three-pointer by McKee with 3:41 to play broke a 48-48 tie and put Hernando in the driver's seat.

But the Leopards could not hold the lead.

Zephyrhills (24-5) closed to 51-50 on a pair of free throws by forward Tawnya Booker, and momentum shifted when forward Jill Sanders intercepted a Hernando pass and dribbled the length of the court for a layup and 52-51 Zephyrhils lead with 1:50 to play.

Two free throws by Kathy Hunka gave Zephyrhills a 55-52 margin with 48 seconds left. The two teams traded baskets to 57-54, but a last-second three-point shot by Hernando missed.

"Jill's steal," Zephyrhills coach Ernie Pittman said after the contest. "I felt it. I felt like that was the swing.

"We held our composure late in the game."

Booker and Sanders led the Bulldogs with 19 points apiece, Sanders scoring 11 in the fourth quarter.

In the early game, top-seeded Citrus (20-3) used its fast-break attack and full-court press to zoom past No. 5 Land O'Lakes.

"The run and the pressure wore them down," Citrus coach Bruce Nelson said. "They're not real deep. Their first five are real good, but they just couldn't breath at the end of the first quarter."

The Gators (17-10) tried to recouperate by running a slow-down offense, but Citrus' 6-foot-2 freshman Kristy White disrupted Land O'Lakes' patterns by taking away the lane.

Citrus broke away from a 10-10 tie in the second quarter, taking a 27-20 halftime lead.

Citrus forward Joy Porter quickly gave the Hurricanes a 12-point lead by scoring the first five points of the second half. Porter had 10 of Citrus' 12 third-quarter points at the Hurricanes pulled away to a 39-26 lead. Porter added another 11 in the fourth quarter to finish with a game-high 29.