TAMPA — Auburndale came into Hillsborough’s gym Friday night for a Class 7A region final and gave the Terriers fits from start to finish, often sending the packed house into a buzzing frenzy.
At one point in the second quarter, the Bloodhounds held a 14-point lead, then took a 12-point lead into halftime. Auburndale also had the Terriers’ point guard — and some say the Terriers’ heart and soul in Christian DeLeon — on the bench with three fouls.
“We were mad, really mad at halftime,” Hillsborough senior Josh Gloster said. “We said, ‘We can’t let this happen.’ We said, ‘We’re not going to let this happen.’”
Then they didn’t.
To start the second half, Hillsborough hit two quick 3-pointers, one by DeLeon and another by Tyriq James to cut the Bloodhounds’ lead to six.
“We knew (Hillsborough) was going to make a run at us in that second half and they sure did,” Auburndale coach Eric Robertson said. “The bottom line is that Hillsborough was just tougher than us in the second half.”
In the end, and especially down the stretch, Hillsborough made more key shots and plays and pulled out a 75-71 victory, earning a second straight trip to the Final Four.
“We always believed we could do it because we’ve been in these situations before,” Hillsborough coach Chris Ward said. “We didn’t panic. We just focused on doing all the little things better in the second half. I’m proud of the way everybody stepped up.”
The list of Terrier heroes was long, including sophomore point guard Jalen Harris, who replaced DeLeon when he went out in the first half in foul trouble, then early in the third quarter when DeLeon picked up his fourth.
Then there was Gloster, who finished with only seven points, but hammered down two thunderous, momentum-changing dunks, blocked two huge shots and made a key foul shot in the final seconds.
Others of note included DeLeon, who still came up with 14 points and several key assists, James, who finished with 17 points and several big, late foul shots and Warren Mclymont, who also had 17.
“When we got down 14 points I thought, ‘Man we really are digging ourselves a hole here,’” Ward said. “But I still had faith. I did.”
HIllsborough (28-2) moves onto to play in a Class 7A semifinal next Friday at noon in Lakeland against Dillard, which defeated Doral Academy 41-29 Friday night to advance.