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Tampa Catholic boys fall short of state for first time in years

Titusville Astronaut throws the Crusaders off their game plan, especially in the second half.
Titusville Astronaut forced costly Tampa Catholic turnovers late as the Crusaders fell 69-55 in Tuesday's Class 4A region semifinal.
Titusville Astronaut forced costly Tampa Catholic turnovers late as the Crusaders fell 69-55 in Tuesday's Class 4A region semifinal. [ DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Feb. 24
Updated Feb. 24

TAMPA — Tampa Catholic was leading Titusville Astronaut at halftime of Tuesday’s Class 4A region semifinal. Still, Crusaders coach Don Dziagwa didn’t have a good feeling about the outcome.

Tampa Catholic’s game plan was to keep the War Eagles, an inconsistent shooting team from the outside, from getting points in the paint, but Astronaut’s first four baskets of the night were easy layups.

“That fuels us not being able to run our fast break, because we didn’t get any stops,” Dziagwa said. “We weren’t really playing our type of game. We’re a running, up-and-down (team). We didn’t get going that way.”

And with the exception of a short run in the second half, the Crusaders didn’t play that way all night. The game was close through the first three quarters, but Astronaut took a lead in the fourth and never looked back, forcing costly Tampa Catholic turnovers late as the Crusaders fell 69-55.

Mistakes on defense may have kept Tampa Catholic (19-7) from playing the game it expected, but Astronaut (25-3) accomplished exactly what it wanted to do from the start: kept the Crusaders from running.

“We played them last year, and that’s where they killed us. I just said, ‘Hey, we gotta send three guys rebound and send two back,” Astronaut coach Kyle Gilreath said. “’We’ll give up some stuff offensively, but if we slow them down, it’ll make a big difference.’”

In the first quarter, Astronaut worked it inside with ease, and 6-foot-5 senior guard Jace Carter had two big dunks to prove it. In the second quarter, freshman guard Karter Knox had a steal and basket on the other end to give Tampa Catholic a small lead. But Carter responded with a big 3-pointer moments later to negate any progress.

Down by four to start the second half, Astronaut caught back up quickly to tie the score, but Tampa Catholic responded with a 10-0 run, running up and down the court like they’re used to doing.

“They go on runs every game. One quarter they get going. Last year it was earlier, this year it was later,” Gilreath said. “Once they went on the 10-0 run, I called a timeout. It calmed us down a bit.”

Tampa Catholic led by as many as nine in the third quarter after forward Derrick Mitchell — who led the Crusaders in scoring with 19 points — hit his second 3-pointer in a matter of minutes. But from that point on, Astronaut’s defense went to work.

Tampa Catholic had two costly turnovers in the final seconds of the third quarter. The Crusaders scored just seven points the rest of the game.

As Tampa Catholic continued to turn the ball over in the fourth, it was the War Eagles who were running up and down the court — and away with the game.

“Sooner or later, we knew (it would end). We had gone five straight years to the final four,” Dziagwa said. “We’re obviously a little disappointed that we didn’t go a little bit farther, but we needed to play a little bit better to go a little bit farther.”