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Tornadoes come up short

Clearwater was supposed to be all but done Wednesday night. Playing against Winter Haven, the No. 1 team in Class 4A and arguably the best in the state regardless of classification, the Tornadoes were without point guard Nicole Ryan (out for the year) and forward Karen Braden (day to day with a bad ankle).

And if there was any doubt this wasn't your typically powerful Clearwater team, the halftime score was almost enough to send even the most faithful fans home early, as Winter Haven led by 19 points.

But even a good Clearwater team can play great basketball. Two good quarters were almost enough to steal the Tornadoes a win before Winter Haven pulled away for a 59-47 victory at Jack Wilson Gymnasium.

Despite trailing 37-18 after a turnover-filled half, the Tornadoes (15-3) fought back and had a chance to tie it late.

Clearwater trailed by 10 four minutes into the game and couldn't get the margin back into single digits until Rachel Hammond's two free throws with 5:52 left made it 47-39.

Charity Kidder's shot from the wing with 3:26 left pulled Clearwater within 49-47, and after a Winter Haven free throw bumped the margin back to three, the Tornadoes had two possessions with a chance to tie. But they couldn't get off a good shot. Kidder's basket was the last for the Tornadoes, as Winter Haven scored the final 10 points.

"I did not think we were safe at halftime," Winter Haven coach LaDawn Gibson said. "No no no. That's still a good team over there, and (Tom) Shaneyfelt is a great coach."

Clearwater, ranked No. 3 in Class 5A, was missing too many offensive options to complete the comeback. Hammond was brilliant, scoring 15 of Clearwater's 29 second-half points, but once the Blue Devils (15-1) clamped down on her late and forced her into a pair of tough shots, the scoring dried up.

"I was really shocked we were down so far at halftime," said Hammond, who finished with a game-high 23 points. "I knew they were the favorites. They are a great team. But I'm glad we got back in the game."

Shaneyfelt said after a dismal first half in which Clearwater trailed by as many as 20, that was all he was hoping for.

"I told the girls they essentially had two choices. They could not give up and just hope they don't lose by 35 and instead just lose by 25, or they could say to heck with it, let's go out there and fight our way back in. You saw what they decided to do."