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By FRANK PASTOR
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2001
SARASOTA -- It took Port Charlotte almost 35 minutes to gain the lead. When the Pirates got it, there was no way they were letting Brandon take it back.
After trailing by as many as nine in the Class 5A, District 12 championship game Saturday, Port Charlotte closed to within three in the second quarter and tied the game late in the third. But each time the Pirates made a run, the Eagles answered.
Until the fourth quarter.
Trailing by two with little more than five minutes left, Port Charlotte used its zone press to force three consecutive Brandon turnovers. The Pirates turned them into six points and a lead they did not relinquish for a 62-55 victory at Sarasota High.
"That was the big turning point in the game," Port Charlotte coach Bill Specht said. "That put us over the top."
Port Charlotte's Tony Hargrove scored a game-high 22. J.J. Turner led Brandon with 16.
The victory gave Port Charlotte (19-10) its third district championship in six years, the first since 1998. It also guaranteed a home game in the opener of the regional tournament, which is Thursday.
Brandon (19-9), which won district titles each of the past three years and advanced to the state championship last season, will open the tournament on the road.
Until then, the Eagles will be left to ponder a fourth quarter in which a team they beat by 5 and 10 points this season outscored them 22-11.
"Defensively, we played pretty tough," Brandon coach Mark Herman said. "It was just, offensively, we couldn't score."
It didn't help that Jaquess Gary was playing on an ankle twisted in the first quarter, or that point guard Dwan Brookins fouled out with 1:55 to play. Brandon trailed 53-52 when Brookins got his fifth foul. He finished with 14 points.
"(Brookins' departure) was huge," Herman said. "It's a one-point game when he fouls out."
As the clock wound down, Brandon tried to foul to get the ball. But Port Charlotte, which missed 8 of 14 free throws in the first three quarters, hit 6 of 9 in the fourth.
"Stretch free throws are key," Specht said. "This team has a way of doing that."