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Dad's happy! Hernando gets past Clay in OT

Stephanie Freeman's last-second shot propels the Leopards into the regional final and fulfills a promise.

By GREG AUMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 21, 2001


BROOKSVILLE -- In four years as a starter, Hernando's Stephanie Freeman had never hit a game-winner.

In playing close to 100 games, in scoring more than 1,000 points, the senior center had never known the joy of putting a game away with a last-second shot.

That all changed Tuesday. "I've been waiting for one of those my whole life," Freeman said. "My dad always says, "Wouldn't it be great just to have one game-winner?' And I'd say, "I promise, Daddy. I'll get you one."

Freeman made good on that promise with 1.5 seconds left in overtime, grabbing Carmen Byrd's missed shot and banking it in to give the Leopards a wild 52-50 win over Green Cove Springs Clay in a Class 4A regional semifinal.

All four of Hernando's overtime baskets came on offensive putbacks -- two by Byrd, one by Bernice Mosby and Freeman's final shot -- as it pulled in six offensive rebounds. "I think that's how we all play together, Carmen, Bernice and I," said Freeman, who celebrated her final home game with her teammates at midcourt. "If one of us misses, we know the other two will be there to back us up."

They needed each other Tuesday as Byrd and Mosby played all 36 minutes and Freeman nearly that against a tough Clay frontcourt. Mosby, who scored 19 of her game-high 25 points after halftime, played most of the game on a badly sprained right ankle.

"It was hurting bad," Mosby said. "(Byrd and Freeman) are always coming through for us. I was going to snatch the ball out of Stephanie's hands at the end of the game, but I'm glad I didn't."

Byrd opened the overtime by scoring off of a Freeman miss. Mosby, who scored the Leopards' final bucket in regulation on a putback, added another for a four-point lead. After Clay ralled to tie it in the final minute, Ellen Widboom was fouled and went to the line with 36 seconds left. Widboom, who had seven steals, missed both free throws. But Mosby got the rebound, missed a shot, got her own rebound, missed again and Byrd banked in a shot to give Hernando a 50-48 lead. Kim Martin, who had tied the game with a three-pointer with 47 seconds left in regulation and brought Clay (19-9) back with another three in overtime, was fouled on a three-point attempt with 20 seconds remaining.

With the crowd at its loudest, Martin missed her first attempt then hit the last two to tie it. "The crowd was unbelievable toward the end," Freeman said. "It was great. The crowd pumped us up, and that's exactly what we needed. We needed something to kick-start us, to say, "Come on, ladies, let's get this through."

The Leopards (23-3) called a timeout with 9.5 seconds left. Widboom inbounded the ball to Mosby, who passed to Byrd. Her driving layup banked wide of the basket and into Freeman's hands for the winning basket. "How many times does that beat you in the close game like that?" Clay coach Frank Wickes said. "Oftentimes, it's not the shot. It's the rebound. This one was really close, and they got that last rebound."

Hernando can celebrate its win, but its next game is a sobering one. Now one win away from their second final four in three years, it travels Saturday to face Titusville Astronaut, a 30-1 team ranked second in the state that hammered Hudson 68-30 on Tuesday.

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