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Taller, tougher foe topples Holy Names

Jaguars fight hard, but ultimately fall to defending state champ Florida High.

By SCOTT PURKS
Published February 22, 2007


LAKELAND - The last shot of Gianna Messina's high school career flew off her fingertips with one minute remaining Wednesday at the Lakeland Center - and bounced off the rim.

It was a 3-pointer, one the Academy of the Holy Names guard thought was "dead on," and that would have cut Tallahassee Florida High's lead to 12.

Instead, as it was for much of the Class 3A semifinal, Florida High grabbed the rebound, raced back and made a layup.

Seconds later Academy coach Casey Higgins hollered to her team, "Don't foul!"

Seconds after that it was over: Florida High 74, Academy 55.

For Academy it was an end to a stellar four-year run led by Gianna and her identical 5-foot-6 twin Catriana, who helped lead the Jaguars to a 27-4 record this season and an average of almost 25 wins the previous three years.

None of which was lost on Higgins.

"When they came to the program I was excited because I saw all the potential they had," Higgins said. "A lot of times I was a little harder on them than the other girls but that was only because I expected so much more from them.

"We're going to miss them very, very much. There is no replacing them."

In the end, Gianna, who has signed with USF, totaled 2,000 career points, while Catriana, who signed with the University of Tampa, finished with more than 1,500.

The Messinas, however, will tell you it was more about working hard and leaving every ounce of effort on the court, which is what they did Wednesday.

Even though Florida High made a killing 29-12 second-quarter run that left the halftime score at 45-25, there was no quit in the Jaguars.

Ultimately, Higgins said the Jaguars, who had no starter taller than 5-7, had no answer for Florida High's inside game, namely 5-11 Varisia Raffington (signed with Alabama) and 6-foot Jayme Warner (University of Charleston). The Seminoles' post duo combined for 38 points and 16 rebounds.

The twins, meantime, combined for 34 points and 14 rebounds, but left with a great deal of respect from Florida High, the defending Class 3A state champs.

"I'm not gonna lie to you," Warner said, "the (Messinas) were good. It didn't matter if you were in their face or not, they could shoot and they could play.

"They were great players."