By ROD GIPSON
Patriots lock up a spot in the final against host AHN.
TAMPA - Freedom entered Thursday's semifinal wanting to extend its dominance of non-Hillsborough County teams. St. Petersburg Catholic wanted respect and to prove it could play with one of the area's best teams.
And though only one team could win, both accomplished their goals as Freedom outlasted St. Petersburg Catholic 66-65 in a wild contest in the Keeler Memorial Tournament.
Freedom faces host Academy of the Holy Names, which rallied from a 22-point deficit to pull out a dramatic 62-54 victory over Dunedin. The championship game is scheduled for 7:30 tonight.
Freedom (15-0), tied for second in Class 5A, was challenged by St. Petersburg Catholic throughout but managed a five-point lead after three quarters. The Barons, ranked seventh in Class 3A, outscored the Patriots in the fourth, but Freedom protected its lead late and benefited from two missed SPC shots that could have won it.
"It was a great effort by our team," said St. Petersburg Catholic coach Nick Vandewalle, whose team dropped to 12-1. "Every time we made a run, (Freedom) got back up. Every time we got in there, they pushed us back. We wanted to come in a play well and I think we did that."
Freedom's Tandra Faulkner led all scorers with 30 points while SPC got 17 points each from Shannon McElhaney and Sasha Chaplin.
"It was a great game," Freedom coach Nancy Kroll said. "We had some foul trouble but we did a good job on the boards. We're pleased with the outcome."
In the other semifinal, Academy of the Holy Names spent the first 10 minutes missing shots, committing turnovers and looking frustrated. Dunedin was hitting on all cylinders, running up a 33-11 lead and seemingly preparing to blow out the Jaguars.
But Academy's fortunes began to turn late in the second quarter. Academy, the No. 2-ranked team in Class 2A, jump-started its offense and pulled off a 10-0 spurt to show some signs of life. By the end of the third, the Jaguars (12-2) had completed an improbable 44-18 run and grabbed control.
Foul trouble ended Dunedin's hopes of bouncing back to complete its upset bid.
With Briana Thomas (20 points) and Chelsea Turgeon (seven points) saddled with four fouls each and Cara Trudell (six points) fouled out, the Falcons' offensive options were limited late.
Academy countered with Gianna Messina, who nailed six free throws late in the game on her way to 24 points. The Jaguars received 11 points from Kristina Darby and 10 each from Catriana Messina and Dana Esposito.
SPC and Dunedin play for third place at 6 p.m.