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Tampa Bay Tech pulls out OT thriller to claim state title

The Titans take advantage of a St. Thomas Aquinas miscue late in the fourth, rely on stingy defense for first championship.
Tampa Bay Tech players celebrate their Class 8A championship win over St. Thomas Aquinas. The Titans prevail 58-52 in overtime. (TAILYR IRVINE | Times)
Tampa Bay Tech players celebrate their Class 8A championship win over St. Thomas Aquinas. The Titans prevail 58-52 in overtime. (TAILYR IRVINE | Times)
Published Mar. 3, 2019

LAKELAND — In the final minutes of Saturday’s Class 8A state championship game, things looked dire for Tampa Bay Tech. The Titans trailed Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas by a point and were in danger of turning the ball over with 18 seconds left.

But in the scramble for the loose ball, the Raiders called a timeout. It was a timeout they didn’t have, leading to a technical foul.

From there, Tampa Bay Tech tied the score on a free throw and almost won it in regulation. The Titans dominated the four-minute overtime period and pulled out a 58-52 win at the RP Funding Center.

Tampa Tech is a state champion for the first time in school history.

“I started to cry,” forward Janiah Barker said. “I’m a freshman and we won this thing. Can’t believe it.”

With three sophomores and two freshmen in the starting lineup, TBT (29-3) is poised to make several more runs at a title. But none likely will be as memorable as the first.

The game really boiled down to the final three minutes of the fourth quarter. The Titans spent the first three quarters matching the Raiders and staying ahead by single digits.

But with 3:10 left, St. Thomas Aquinas guard Abigail Hsu made a 3-pointer to cut the TBT lead to 43-42.

Tampa Bay Tech's Jasmine Peaks (14) sinks a free throw with 18 seconds left in the fourth quarter to send the game to overtime. (TAILYR IRVINE | Times)
Tampa Bay Tech's Jasmine Peaks (14) sinks a free throw with 18 seconds left in the fourth quarter to send the game to overtime. (TAILYR IRVINE | Times)

Then Samara Spencer came up with a steal and easy layup to give the Raiders a 44-43 lead with just over two minutes left. The teams traded layups, then Titans forward Amiya Evans made a layup with 58 seconds left for a 47-46 lead.

Hsu made two free throws with 30 second to play and the Raiders led 48-47. TBT was trying to run a final play but the ball came loose with 18 seconds left. During the scrum for the ball, the referee signaled for a timeout. That’s when Aquinas received a technical, giving the Titans two free throws and the ball.

Jasmine Peaks made her second free throw to knot it at 48. Evans had a good look at the basket from 15 feet with five seconds left, but the shot caromed off the rim.

“When (Peaks) missed that free throw she was thinking she lost the game,” Titans coach Reggie Lawrence said. “But we told her we had her back. Let’s just go out and win this game.”

The Titans scored the first three baskets of overtime on a 15-footer from Jayla Murray, a layup from K’Nisha Godfrey and another basket from Murray. The defense clamped down in overtime and didn’t allow any close scoring chances.

“It helped us get the momentum,” Murray said of scoring early in overtime.

Tampa Bay Tech's Janiah Barker connects for a layup just before the end of the first quarter. (TAILYR IRVINE | Times
Tampa Bay Tech's Janiah Barker connects for a layup just before the end of the first quarter. (TAILYR IRVINE | Times

Lawrence said he had a simple message for his team after regulation.

“It’s a brand new ball game,” he said. “It’s 0-0. Let’s play like we did at the beginning of the game. It worked.”

As has been the case all season, the Titans played stingy on defense. They outrebounded the Raiders 47-29 and had 25 offensive rebounds. But Aquinas (23-7) forced 19 turnovers and had 13 steals to help them stay in the game.

Barker had 17 points to lead TBT. Murray and Godfrey added 12. Belia LaChance had 18 points for the Raiders and was one of the few players able to get to the basket.

“We take a lot of pride in our man-to-man defense,” Lawrence said. “We feel like our girls can defend almost anybody. We like to defend more than we like to play offense.”

When the final horn sounded, TBT players piled on each other and hugged whoever they could find. Chants of “Tech, Tech, Tech” filled the arena.

Now the aim is to get back next season, perhaps under less stressful conditions.

“That’s the goal,” Lawrence said. “But right now we need to take some time off. I think I’ll take a vacation or something. Then it starts again in the fall. We start this journey all over again.”

Read more:

Related: No repeat collapse at state for Tampa Bay Tech
Related: A freshman force on defense sparks Tampa Bay Tech
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