By JOHN C. COTEY
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 21, 2001
HUDSON -- Her record-setting career, defined by sharp shooting, unselfish play and quiet grace, was just two minutes from being over when Hudson's Nicole Warder fired up her last shot.
Fittingly, it was a three-pointer.
Fittingly, it was a swish.
The shot mattered little in the outcome of the game, a dominant 67-30 win by Titusville Astronaut in the Class 4A, Region 2 semifinals Tuesday night, but it sent Warder out on a relatively happy note.
"This was a good way to end my career," Warder said. "No regrets."
The Cobras had no illusions going into the game that it would be a battle. Astronaut, ranked No. 2 in the state, improved to 30-1 with the win and picked up its 28th consecutive victory. In doing so, it manhandled the Cobras with a superior inside game and forced 30 turnovers with a devastating press.
Leading 36-19 at halftime, the War Eagles didn't allow the Cobras (19-7) to score in the third quarter until Warder hit a short jumper with three seconds left, bringing to an end an 18-0 Astronaut run.
"We knew; we expected this," Hudson coach Doreen Grote said. "We had a lot of respect for them. You don't get to be ranked No. 2 in the state for no reason."
One reason is great defense, which Astronaut played. It took 60 shots compared to 38 for Hudson thanks to a 30-13 turnover margin. And in the third quarter, the War Eagles made 9 of 14 shots as Hudson hit 1 of 13.
"Physically we were outmanned," Grote said. "But I'm proud of the season we had, and we did a lot of good things. And Nicole, she broke I don't know how many records this year."
The all-time leading scorer at Hudson and a four-year starter, Warder was clearly a marked player Tuesday.
With Astronaut's top defender Kayla Sheldon smothering her, Warder didn't even touch the ball on offense until taking the ball coast-to-coast and hitting Lauren Bislick for a short bank shot three minutes into the game. That tied the game 4-4 with 5:01 left in the quarter, and shortly thereafter, Titusville asserted itself and went on a 21-4 run to bury the Cobras.
"She was tough," Warder said of Sheldon. "Even when I got open it was only for a brief second."
Warder got free for a short baseline jumper in the second quarter and banked in a three-pointer with a defender in her face a few moments later. Until hitting for Hudson's only points, she never got open in the third quarter.
"We played them over the summer, so we knew how good they were," Warder said. "We just couldn't keep up with them."
Warder, who signed with Division II Rollins College, finished with 18 points, and freshman guard Jen Barrett struggled to just six. No other Cobra had more than two points.
Jennifer Clarke's 15 led a balanced Astronaut attack as four other players scored six or more.