CLEARWATER - The pressure was everything Clearwater coach Jack Coit feared - swarming, pestering, opportunistic. But it was not unrelenting.
Reversing what appeared to be fading fortunes in the second half, it was Clearwater's defense and hustle that ultimately decided Thursday's 44-41 win over Gibbs at Jack Wilson Gymnasium in the Class 5A quarterfinals.
The No. 3-ranked Tornadoes (26-2) held Gibbs to 14 second-half points and one basket in the final six minutes to advance to Tuesday's semifinals, where they host No. 10 Punta Gorda Charlotte, a 68-48 winner over Cape Coral.
Gibbs (17-10) controlled the first half with its pressure defense, forcing turnovers and converting them into a 27-17 halftime lead. Clearwater made just 2 of 18 shots in the second quarter,
"The kids were excited and they were also a little flat," Clearwater coach Jack Coit said. "I think we missed about every kind of shot known to basketball in that first half."
As Clearwater began handling the pressure better, the Gibbs lead dwindled in the third quarter and disappeared in the fourth. With his team trailing 37-32 with six minutes left, unsung forward Trevor Lee scored consecutive baskets after rebounds to make it 37-36.
Less than a minute later, he gave Clearwater its first lead when he saved a ball from going out of bounds to Jon Thomas for a layup.
After a Gibbs free throw, Cruz Daniels scored two of his game-high 15, and Luke Postorino, playing gingerly on a torn ACL, sank two free throws with 1:52 left to make it 42-38.
Gibbs center Marreese Speights, who scored nine of Gibbs 14 second-half points, had a free throw and lay-in to get the Gladiators within a point, but Thomas made a pair of free throws with 47 seconds left and Gibbs couldn't answer, missing three shots in the final 20 seconds.
5A: Devils end drought
ST. PETERSBURG - St. Petersburg (21-7) overcame recent history and a sluggish second quarter, beating Largo 59-44. The win was the Green Devils' first playoff victory since 1983.
Largo (19-9) was poised to help St. Petersburg continue its postseason misfortune after holding the Green Devils to six points in the second quarter. The Packers led 22-20 at halftime despite trailing 14-7 after the first. They gained the lead by drawing fouls and converting at the free-throw line - 7-of-9 in the second quarter and 10-of-13 in the first half.
St. Petersburg coach Chris Blackwell told his team at the half he was tired of the easy baskets and they responded.
"We wanted to make sure that they worked for their shots," Blackwell said. "We got out there and pressured the ball on the perimeter. They didn't hit too many field goals."
The Green Devils transformed a two-point halftime deficit into a 39-31 lead early in the fourth quarter using sound half-court defense. The Packers did not score their first field goal of the second half until there was 4:50 remaining in the third quarter.
St. Petersburg outscored the Packers 39-22 in the second half. Senior guard Ricky Pena almost outscored the entire Largo team. His 17-point second half was more than any Largo player had for the game. Pena led all scorers with 20 points. Largo's Fred Marshall scored 16.
- JEREMY WRITT
4A: Spartans advance
ST. PETERSBURG - Lakewood started strong and overcame a late threat to top Sebring 70-54.
Lakewood's Mario Telfair scored 10 in the opening quarter, which happened to be all the points scored in the first, as the Spartans (27-1) shut out Sebring.
Telfair added eight more in the second, despite only playing half the quarter. Sean Morrison scored 10 for the Spartans, leading Lakewood to a commanding 37-9 halftime lead.
Sebring (13-14) appeared to gain some momentum and outscored Lakewood 22-15 in the third. But the Spartans opened a 30-point lead halfway though the quarter, which was too much for the Blue Streaks.
With two minutes left, Sebring cut the Spartan lead to 11. Behind free throws from Coryon Ross and Morrison, the Spartans finished on a 7-2 run, ending any chance for a comeback. Levon Darthard scored 13 fourth-quarter points for Sebring, including three 3-pointers before fouling out with 1:23 left.
Telfair finished with a game-high 24 points. Morrison added 14.