TRINITY — River Ridge upset top seed Tarpon Springs 46-35 Wednesday then host Mitchell avoided a Land O’Lakes challenge to win 42-32 in the other 6A-10 semifinal.
The upstart Royal Knights (15-10) will play Mitchell to decide the district title Friday night at 7. Both teams are playoff-bound thanks to their wins Wednesday.
Sophomore Leah Ford scored 17 to lead fourth-seeded River Ridge. She came up big in the third quarter, hitting three straight field goals to turn a four-point halftime lead into a 26-16 advantage. Tarpon never got the margin below six.
“We had trouble with their press when we played them before,” Ford said. “But we played our game tonight. We felt the pressure a little, though.”
She referred to the fourth quarter when the Knights struggled to 9-for-20 at the foul line. With River Ridge in the bonus midway through the third, Knights coach Joeyn Dearsman knew it would become a free-throw shooting contest.
“I knew it, and I got sick to my stomach because we’re not very good at the foul line,” she said. “But it’s a huge win. I was surprised at how well we were able to do defensively.”
Tarpon Springs had gone through district play with an 8-0 mark. Kadejah Saunders did her best to get the Spongers (15-5) back in the game, scoring 14 of her 16 in the second half.
Jalynn Hoolihan spearheaded the Knights’ defense and had a critical basket to restore the margin to 10 with three minutes left. Carly Wallace scored nine including two big free throws after Tarpon had gotten within 39-33.
In the nightcap sophomore Hannah Kriston, who wasn’t supposed to play because of a wrist injury sustained last week, sparked Mitchell (15-9). She entered late in the third quarter and the Mustangs’ energy level rose noticeably.
With her shooting hampered Kriston turned playmaker, with two crisp assists for go-ahead baskets in the fourth. And Kim Knudsen was 0-for-6 behind the arc before knocking down a tiebreaking 3 with three minutes left.
Kriston punctuated the win by following up a missed free throw with a basket to make it 40-32 in the final minute.
Mitchell went 5-for-6 to start and end the game, but in between went 5-for-23. During that middle portion Land O’Lakes, led by senior Sarah Nichols (17 points), went on a 10-0 run to end the first half and was up by five early in the third quarter.
Ashley Lewis paced the Mustangs with 15 points. Her fastbreak basket followed Knudsen’s 3 for a 36-31 lead, and she later grabbed a clinching offensive rebound.
7A-9: Long-range shooting sinks Wiregrass
TAMPA — For the second straight season the Class 7A, District 9 title will come down to Freedom and Steinbrenner after the tournament front-runners scored lopsided victories in Wednesday’s semifinals at Freedom.
Defending champion Steinbrenner opened with a 50-35 win over Wiregrass Ranch and top-seeded Freedom routed Gaither 88-16 with a running clock utilized for the entire second half.
“I put it to the kids, ‘You guys are defending champions. You’ve got to go out and act like it,’ ” Warriors coach J.R. Allen said of a pregame address to his players.
“The good thing about Friday night is we both go on,” added Patriots coach Laurie Pacholke.
Steinbrenner (20-5) opened with 14-0 unanswered points, but Wiregrass Ranch pulled within seven with a 10-2 run midway through the second quarter. The Bulls (16-12) never got closer in losing to the Warriors for the third time this season.
Steinbrenner buried eight 3-pointers to keep Wiregrass Ranch at bay. Olivia Unger, who scored a game-high 15, had three treys and Bailey Hooker scored 14 with four 3-point shots.
Wiregrass Ranch got 11 points from Amanda Melosky and nine from Logan Seoane.
The romp in the second game was even greater with the Patriots (21-3) taking a 36-2 halftime lead and continuing their domination as the clock continually ran in the second half.
“Our goal is to hopefully be prepared for the next six games we have,” Pacholke said, alluding to state title aspirations. “It’s playoff time. We’re going to come up against some good competition and I want them to be ready.”
Faith Woodard and Taylor Emery each scored 26 to lead the Patriots.
5A-7: Sharks slump down stretch
Nature Coast hung with top-seeded Crystal River for three quarters before the Pirates pulled away to earn a 44-37 win in Wednesday’s Class 5A, District 7 semifinal. The loss ends the Sharks’ season at 10-15.
The game was tied at the half, and the Sharks were competitive in the third quarter but couldn’t match Crystal River’s firepower late. NCT made only two of its 10 free-throw attempts.
Sophomore forward Rita Jarque led NCT with 13 points. Sophomore guard Fatima Jones added nine, and Mirandas Jones chipped in seven more for the Sharks.
Fourth-seeded NCT advanced to the game after edging Eustis 56-52 Tuesday night.
Staff writer Matt Baker and correspondent Steve Lee contributed to this report.