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Devils in it until the end

St. Petersburg coach Ryan Halstead stood in front of his seat after Tuesday's game against Mitchell, appearing stunned and disappointed as he tried to digest another agonizing loss.

For the third time in Halstead's seven games as coach, a victory was snatched from the Green Devils down the stretch.

St. Petersburg watched as the visiting Mustangs hit decisive free throws in the final two minutes to hold on in a 42-33 district victory.

"It's tough because we're in the games, we're just not pulling them out in the end," Halstead said.

Still, Halstead sees the close losses as reason for optimism. In the season opener against Boca Ciega, the Green Devils were ahead by nine late in the third quarter. The following week, St. Petersburg went into the fourth quarter tied with Clearwater before falling.

"It shows we can play with some of the top teams in the county," Halstead said.

This is Halstead's first year coaching girls basketball. He was the boys coach at Gainesville Oak Hall two years ago and an assistant at Eckerd last year before deciding to return to his alma mater.

The biggest thing he is preaching is tempo and efficiency. He wants his team to control the pace and make the most of every chance at both ends of the floor.

That will take time after Halstead installed the Princeton offense, which emphasizes ball circulation over going one-on-one.

The system has given the 4-3 Green Devils a balanced scoring attack (Jazmyn Green is the only player averaging more than 10 points per game).

"The biggest thing we have to eliminate is turnovers," Halstead said.

But the young lineup is making great leaps forward. St. Petersburg is 3-1 in district play and has played well against the top two teams in the county.

"The nice thing is we still have time to improve," Halstead said.

TIP INS: Another surprising team is Dixie Hollins, which is 5-4 despite losing star player Sam Stine, who transferred. ...Keswick Christian's Janelle DeVaul scored her 1,000th career point last week. ...There are several big games next week including Dunedin at Clearwater on Dec. 14 and Boca Ciega at Clearwater on Dec. 15.

FAB FIVE

1. Boca Ciega (8-0): The Pirates got past district rival Lakewood last week to remain undefeated.

2. Clearwater (8-0): The Tornadoes have some of their toughest tests in the county next week.

3. Dunedin (5-0): The Falcons have simply been overwhelming opponents lately.

4. St. Petersburg Catholic (6-1): The Barons bounced back from an early-season loss to Wesley Chapel and have won four straight.

5. Lakewood (5-3): The Spartans are trying to find their rhythm after last week's loss to the Pirates.

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