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BOCA CIEGA 53, FT. WALTON BEACH 42 // Pirates survive, set to defend title

By now, the Boca Ciega girls are plenty used to all the winning.

It showed after the Class 5A defending state champions and No. 1-ranked team survived a scare before prevailing 53-42 against Fort Walton Beach in the semifinals of the state tournament Wednesday afternoon. After the game the girls calmly and casually shook hands, confidently, as they awaited a chance to defend its state title against Tallahassee Godby.

They displayed little emotion while simply taking care of business. Maybe, it's because the Pirates have a bigger prize to claim. They could become the first public high school team in Pinellas County to win back-to-back titles.

"We came out here to make sure we win which is what we did," Boca Ciega coach Harry Elifson said. "We're going to win (tonight). A sign of a good team is to win without maybe playing your best. Here we are again to take care of another job."

Yet, Boca Ciega (33-1 and ranked No. 19 in Wednesday's USA Today national rankings) struggled for three quarters and the Vikings (24-10) actually cut into Bogie's 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter to make it 41-35.

That's when Bogie senior Akita Heatly surfaced. She scored on a couple of layups and made three nifty passes for easy baskets by Erica Kirkendall, Angelina Williams and Crystal Worlds as the Pirates pulled away.

"Great players make great plays when it counts," Fort Walton Beach coach Joe Pons said. "We got close but at the end No. 12 (Heatly) was there to take over."

Heatly, who scored 14 points, had six assists and two steals and was a major force in the final minutes.

But it was the inside strength of the Pirates' 5-11 senior Worlds which caused problems for the Vikings throughout the game.

Worlds scored a game-high 15 points and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds while getting three steals to lead a stellar defensive effort by Boca Ciega.