The lights, the big crowd, the cavernous arena _ all of it felt a little strange to the Clearwater girls basketball team. The young Tornadoes had experience, but they never had seen a game like this.
Their jitters showed Wednesday night against No. 2 Tallahassee Godby in the Class 5A semifinals at the Lakeland Center. In contrast, Godby _ making its second consecutive trip to the state final four _ showed both calmness and quickness in beating No. 5 Clearwater 60-49.
The Cougars (31-2) play 5A defending champion Boca Ciega (33-1) tonight for the state title.
The trouble for the Tornadoes (27-7) was turnovers. Clearwater made 26 to Godby's 10. Every time it edged closer, Cougars guard Dione Smith (14 points, seven steals) came up with a steal or the Tornadoes bobbled it away.
Junior Alicia Evans led them back after they fell behind 45-36 at the end of the third quarter. Evans scored eight of the next 13 points and had two free throws with 3:31 remaining to make it 51-49. But Smith had two more steals and scored six of Godby's last nine points to put the game away.
"A couple of turnovers and you could see the shoulders slump," Clearwater coach Tom Shaneyfelt said. "(We thought) maybe we couldn't get over the hill one more time."
Evans scored a game-high 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Sophomore center Molly Worrall had 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Freshman point guard Shinikki Whiting, who averaged 18 points a game, said playing in the final four was "surprising and scary" _ and her nerves showed. Dogged by Smith all night, she had 11 points and 11 rebounds but committed 14 turnovers and made just 4 of 20 shots from the field.
But Whiting and Evans were cheerful after the loss. Most of the disappointment was saved for seniors Regan Fuller, Kerry Fuller and Kim Schultz. The rest count the game as a learning experience and have a feeling they'll be back.
"We hustled," Whiting said. "We (got) closer. But then we got down four or six points and our heads dropped. I think we could have played harder."