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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
TAMPA - Sickles entered its Class 6A, District 7 tournament semifinal game against Mitchell hoping to stay close and make a run at an upset. But Mitchell's sharp-shooting tandem of Kristi Hopper and Joanna Bussa helped the Mustangs build an early lead before they held off a late Sickles rally to earn a 57-48 victory Thursday.
Mitchell, 22-4 and ranked just outside of the Class 6A top 10, received six 3-pointers combined from Hopper and Bussa while building an 11-point lead in the opening half. Though the Mustangs maintained their comfortable lead throughout, the Gryphons (13-11) remained pesky, using a late charge to get within seven before Mitchell closed the door.
Mitchell, the tournament's top seed, will square off against No. 2 Alonso in the championship game Saturday at 7 p.m. Alonso had little trouble against Gaither, rolling to a 57-36 win. Alonso was led by Meranda Maley (18 points), Ashley Rivera (12 points) and Lisette Perez (11 points).
After scoring just six points in the second quarter, Sickles' offense got going in the second half, outscoring Mitchell 29-23. Unfortunately for the Gryphons, the defense could do little to stop the Mustangs outside shooting and inside strength.
Sickles' Shawnta Snakovsky hit a 3-point shot to open the fourth, narrowing Mitchell's lead to 45-35. The Gryphons kept attacking the basket, eventually closing the gap to seven. Mitchell's free-throw shooting also was clutch in the final quarter, when the Mustangs hit on 6 of 9 shots to keep Sickles at bay.
Hopper led all scorers with 26 points while Bussa had 10 and Olivia Souza eight.
4A-8: Gulf rolls on
NEW PORT RICHEY - Gulf used a pressing defense to overcome a rare care case of offensive ineptitude, cruising past South Sumter 60-26 to advance to the title game. Despite the lopsided score, the host Buccaneers shot only 29 percent from the field, including 19 percent in the first half.
"If we come out and play the first four minutes like that on Saturday, or anytime in the state tournament, it's going to be a much closer game," Buccaneers coach Mike Quarto said. "Against good teams you can't miss easy baskets like that, and our kids know it."
The Bucs (26-1) started off slow, missing an open layup just after tipoff, and managing zero points in the opening minutes. After two Policia Brown free throws, however, which gave South Sumter a 2-0 lead, the Bucs went on a 17-4 run to close out the quarter up 17-6. In the second, they shot 9-of-21 from the field and continued their assault, outscoring their opponents from the north 27-10 to take a 44-16 lead at the half. A running clock was used in the final two quarters.
For all of Gulf's shooting woes - they missed their first 11 shots in the third and fourth quarters - their defensive play was stellar. They forced the Red Raiders (10-15) into numerous turnovers in almost every situation, and twice held South Sumter to two field goals or less in a quarter. The Red Raiders had no scorers in double figures and were led by Brown and Tish Ford, who each scored seven points. Gulf was led by Dominique English, who scored 13 of her 15 points in the first half, and Tiara Cook, who finished with a game-high 19.
In the evening's first game, Nature Coast used a dominating third quarter to pull away from Pasco, defeating the Pirates 50-31. Leading 22-15 at the half, Nature Coast (21-6) outscored Pasco (16-11) 18-4 in the third to gain some breathing room. Nature Coast was led by Cherikhan Waddy, who scored a game-high 15, while Pasco was led by Molly Barthle's 11.
- MIKE TOMPKINS, Times correspondent
4A-6: Panthers prevail
LECANTO - Panthers coach Ron Allan gave the empty stands a glance.
"Now all we have to do is win against West Port," Allan said.
Lecanto's aggressive half- and full-court press helped it pull away at the end of the first quarter en route to a 49-30 win against Crystal River, setting up a final with Ocala West Port.
Crystal River (18-7) looked a step slow all night, struggling to score after the opening minutes when the score was tied at 10. A five-point run off a Tara Haddock 3-pointer followed by a Sasha Rodriguez backdoor bucket helped Lecanto pull away 17-12 by the end of the first and the Panthers never trailed the rest of the way. Crystal River struggled to pass efficiently, with multiple out-of-bounds miscues, and couldn't connect with the net. Senior Lacey Lyons, who is averaging 16 points this season, 22 in the past month, was held to 12.
Pirates coach Jere DeFoor said Crystal River wasn't able to break Lecanto's press earlier this season. But when the Pirates were able to break through Lecanto's press on Thursday, Crystal River couldn't convert and missed open shots that allowed the Panthers to stay in their press.
Allan knows Lecanto (19-7) won't get as many opportunities against top-seeded West Port.
"West Port is a different animal," Allan said. "They have speed. They can press. They have big bodies inside. They have three-point shooters and they have two-point shooters. We are going to have to come out and put forth a great effort, to where we have a chance in the end."
Seniors Melissa Foraker and Tara Haddock led Lecanto with 19 and 14 points, respectively.
In the other semifinal, Ocala West Port took an early 9-2 lead and never looked back, downing Citrus 70-33 in a mercy-rule victory.
Citrus finished 13-13, its best record in years.
Senior Ashley Hoglund, who scored 29 points Tuesday against Belleview, scored 17 in her final game. She scored the final Citrus points of the season on a 20-foot jumper with 10 seconds left.
"They had too many easy shots," Hoglund said of the Wolf Pack. "They just dominated down low. They are all strong. All five players have skills."
West Port took a 23-5 lead in the first quarter. Kabia Robinson led West Port with 10 first-quarter points. The Wolf Pack scored many of their baskets on fast break layups and inside shots. They forced a running clock when they took a 56-21 lead with 3:46 left in the third quarter.
The loss was the only negative for Citrus coach Eli Jackson. "I'm thoroughly happy with everything that happened this season," he said. "I enjoyed every second of working with these girls. It was the best team chemistry I have ever seen."
- DAWN REISS, Times staff writer; LARRY BUGG, Times correspondent