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GATORS DIG DEEP FOR VICTORY

Land O'Lakes regains its focus and pulls away after Ridgewood tries to rally.

Laurie Pacholke needed to dig up the right words at the most crucial point in the season.

The Land O'Lakes coach bent down and looked deep into each player during a third-quarter timeout. The girls were tired, and Ridgewood was making a huge comeback. Pacholke needed their attention.

"When it came to that point, I looked at them and said, 'Do you guys want to go home?'" she said. "'You know our motto: We're here to kill, to get the job done.'"

And with that, Gators freshman Meghan Keough sparked a huge second-half run for a 62-39 win Friday in the Class 5A,District 7 semifinal. Keough scored three of her 17 on a three-point play to spark a 23-5 Gators run to finish the game.

Land O'Lakes' six seniors, including Kayli Keough (game-high 24 points), didn't want to lose on their home floor. They wanted to go out on their own terms, and a 46-33 loss at Ridgewood on Jan. 18 was what ultimately got their attention.

"You should have seen the locker room afterward," Kayli Keough said of that night. "It was not pretty."

The Gators (24-2) appeared poised to run Ridgewood (17-9) out of the gymnasium Friday after breaking out to a 22-4 lead after one quarter. They forced 13 turnovers in the first eight minutes and led by as much as 19 twice.

But the Rams countered in the third quarter, making the push to cut the deficit to five after a 22-8 run spanning the second and third quarters.

"We got in a big hole, and I don't know if we expended a lot of energy coming back," Ridgewood coach Greg Bollinger said. "... They outplayed us. They played harder tonight, and they deserved to win."

Game 1 - Wesley Chapel 64, Central 35: The Wildcats (21-4) stood in their school parking lot and waited. When 5 p.m. came and went with tipoff scheduled in an hour, coach Warren Jones realized the bus wasn't coming. Then he spearheaded a grass roots carpooling effort.

The Wildcats shook off a sluggish first half with no warmup and managed to pull away against the Bears (12-12) in the final 16 minutes thanks to a game-high 14 points by Cree McIver.

The Wildcats stuck around to see who they get to face in tonight's final. They got up to leave in the third quarter, but Ridgewood's comeback forced them to stick around longer than expected.

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