Plant going to state after a great escape
By EMILY NIPPS, Times Staff Writer
Published February 29, 2004
TAMPA - One by one, each giddy Plant player took her turn sawing a piece of net with scissors while parents and friends gathered around and snapped pictures. It was a moment that seemed unlikely from the start of the season, if not to the Panthers, to everyone else who doubted them.
Plant (22-4), a team that had never gotten past the region quarterfinals, erased a 10-point, second-half deficit to defeat Haines City 42-41 in the Class 5A region final. The Panthers will be the first to go to the state tournament in the school's 78-year history and the first Hillsborough County team to go to state in four years.
With three minutes left, Plant senior Lauren Cimino's 3-pointer tied it at 38. Senior Megan Schroder followed with a 10-foot jumper with 1:55 to go. After a Haines City free throw, Butler scored a layup to push the lead to 3. Several 3-point attempts later, Haines City made a layup with seven seconds left, and Plant ran out the clock.
Plant sophomore Eriqah Butler had 11 points. Schroder added 10 points and Cimino 9.
Even though two of Plant's top scorers are sophomores, something about this season felt different to the Panthers. "Last year we were decent," sophomore Butler said. "But when we had tryouts this season and we were scrimmaging, we just seemed so much better than last year. We're more of a team, whereas last year we were more split apart."
Outmatching the Panthers in size and at the boards, Haines City (21-6) wiped out any early celebration of Plant's 4-0 start by ending the first quarter with an 11-6 lead. Butler, Plant's leading scorer and rebounder, got two quick fouls in that quarter, forcing coach Carrie Mahon to pace her playing time as the Panthers tried to catch up.
"Offensively, we really got out of rhythm," Mahon said. "With (Butler) not in the game, I think that's one reason we hit a wall.
Plant trailed by one at the half. But after Plant sophomore Porscha Williamson hit a 3-pointer, the Hornets went on a 12-point run to take a 10-point lead before the Panthers clawed their way back.
The Panthers will face Fort Lauderdale Dillard (27-3) in the 5A semifinals in Lakeland on Wednesday. Dillard beat Hollywood South Broward 52-46 in Saturday's region finals.
4A: Blake outmatched
TAMPA - The only question at the half was if Winter Haven could reach 100 points. The clock ran out to see to it that didn't happen, but little else could help Blake. The Yellow Jackets were outmatched and outmuscled by Winter Haven 64-28 in the Class 4A region championship game.
The Blue Devils (29-1) looked every bit the state's No.1 Class 4A team in routing Blake and advancing to the state semifinals for the fourth time in five years. Blake, which made a strong late-season run and upset Tampa Bay Tech to win its district and go on to the regionals, finished 19-12.
Winter Haven took control early, opening a 14-1 lead with its relentless pace. The Blue Devils pounded the ball inside with LaQwesha Gamble, Crystal Campbell and Mikki Best. The few times Winter Haven did not get points in the paint, it got them outside from Tiffany Hamilton, Shawntay Anglin and a hot-shooting Amber Smith.
As the Blue Devils continued their pace, missed shots and turnovers plagued the Yellow Jackets. Blake finally made its first field goal, a 3-pointer from Erica Nelson, with 3:25 left in the first quarter. The Yellow Jackets did not make another field goal until the 6:30 mark of the second. By that time, Winter Haven led 26-6.
Hamilton threw up a desperation shot from well beyond the 3-point line at the halftime buzzer that found nothing but net and extended the lead to 53-14.
Smith led all scorers with 21 points while Gamble added 13. The Yellow Jackets were led by Nelson's 11 points and Ashley Butler's nine.
- ROD GIPSON
A: Cambridge denied
BRADENTON - Bradenton Christian erased a 14-point deficit Saturday and for the second year in a row denied Cambridge a berth in the state final four.
The Panthers (26-3) stopped Cambridge cold in the fourth quarter, allowing the Lancers only two baskets to escape with a 50-48 victory.
With the score tied at 48, an errant Lancer pass was stolen and picked up by Bradenton's Jessica Magley. She drove the length of the court to drill home the final two points with just seven seconds left. A desperation shot by Cambridge (28-3) fell short as the game ended.
"I thought we had them when we started that final quarter," Cambridge coach Karim Nohra said. "But give credit to Bradenton Christian. They never stopped coming after us and we just couldn't get the big basket when we needed it."
Magley led all scorers with 24 points but it was the Panthers' Sara VanderBent who got her team back in the game, hitting two 3-pointers to open the final quarter and cut the Cambridge lead to six.
Alexis Walker led Cambridge with 15 points.
Cambridge had averaged 76 points per game through the first two rounds of region play. The relentless full-court Panther pressure made the difference, causing 28 Lancer turnovers.
- JIM REESE
[Last modified February 29, 2004, 01:15:11]
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