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Tampa Bay Tech girls ease into another region final

Next up for the defending state champs is a road trip to Winter Haven on Friday.
With star player Janiah Barker still out of the lineup, Tampa Bay Tech is getting key contributions from multiple players. [DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times]

TAMPA ― If Tampa Bay Tech is going to return to the state tournament, it’s going to have to do so without top player Janiah Barker. So far, so good.

With Barker still sidelined due to an ankle injury, the second-seeded Titans easily advanced to Friday’s Class 6A region final. Tuesday night, they jumped on St. Cloud early and never let up in a 71-38 win. Next up is a game at No. 1 seed Winter Haven, who beat Strawberry Crest 70-51.

Tampa Bay Tech coach Reggie Lawrence said Barker won’t be ready to play Friday, but she does have a doctor’s appointment next week and could be ready to play some minutes if the Titans advance to the state semifinals next Thursday in Lakeland. Barker was on the bench with her right ankle in a boot.

Related: Plant girls basketball keeps on rolling, tops rival Tampa Bay Tech

She was injured on Jan. 29 against Plant and hasn’t played in four playoff games, including the district tournament. But there are clearly other scorers on the team.

Forward Jayla Murray scored 16 points against the Bulldogs despite suffering cramps in her calves in the second half. Fellow forward Amiya Evans scored nine points. And guards Jasmine Peaks and K’Nisha Godfrey continued to provide offense. Peaks had 13 points and Godfrey had a game-high 23 points, including 7-of-9 from the free-throw line.

“We’re hanging in there right now,” Godfrey said. “One game at a time. But if anything, with (Barker) out, we want to do it for her.”

The Titans (23-6) didn’t give St. Cloud much of a chance. They jumped out to an 8-0 lead that included a lay up and 3-pointer from sophomore guard Kieran Allen, who was making her first start.

“I asked her if I started her, would she be okay?” Lawrence said. “Usually I have to let her watch first because she gets a little anxious. But we started her and it paid off.”

Related: Tampa Bay Tech girls get back on track after holiday slump

The Bulldogs (19-9) did cut the first-quarter lead to 12-10, but TBT went on a 10-0 run thanks to a three-point play and a 3-point shot by Godfrey. The run continued in the second quarter. The Titans scored 14 of the first 16 points in the half and built a 36-15 lead.

By halftime, they were up 40-20. TBT went to the free-throw line 16 times in the first half while St. Cloud only took four free throws. For the game, the Titans made 18 of 30 free throws. The Bulldogs took 12 free throws overall, all by center Eno Inyang.

“We wanted to attack the basket,” Lawrence said. “Attack, attack, attack.”

The second half was more of the same. With 5:50 left in the game, Evans converted a three-point play that made the lead 36 points and forced a running clock. It was their second straight running clock in regionals after beating Armwood 70-32.

Lawrence said his team may have more of an uphill battle to win a second straight state title. Not only is Barker out, but so is fellow sophomore Laila Duffey. That means players like Evans and Murray have to pick up the slack.

″It makes me have to step up more, score more," Murray said. “I’ve still got to hustle and play defense, but it’s the scoring that’s the difference. I’ve got to put in the extra work. But right now my confidence has gone way up.”

Region girls basketball finals

All games 7 p.m. Friday night unless noted.

7A: No. 3 Orlando Boone at No. 1 Plant

6A: No. 2 Tampa Bay Tech at No. 1 Winter Haven

4A: No. 2 Wesley Chapel at No. 1 Lake Highland Prep

3A: No. 2 Seffner Christian at No. 1 Carrollwood Day

2A: No. 2 Hernando Christian at No. 1 Keswick Christian, 5