By ROD GIPSON, FRANK PASTOR, Times staff
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2001
TAMPA -- Coming into the Class 6A, Region 2 quarterfinals, Gaither and Sarasota Riverview matched up fairly evenly. Neither team was extremely tall, very deep or deadly from anywhere on the court.
The only seemingly real difference was the one Gaither took advantage of -- free throw shooting. Behind a 30-of-44 night at the line and a first-half scoring spurt, Gaither turned back Riverview 65-51 to advance to the semifinals. On Tuesday, Gaither (19-8) will host the winner of Thursday's Boone/Melbourne game.
"There hasn't been a team we've played all season where we came in and said we could blow them out," Gaither coach Dwayne Olinger said. "But we know we can get to the free throw line and that is our objective."
It worked to perfection.
With the quick feet and penetrating styles of brother tandem Antonio and Marcus Russell and the inside muscle of Kenny Huebner, the Cowboys found plenty of fouls and plenty of trips to the free throw line. Gaither's offense made enough things happen early to jump out to a 17-10 first-period lead but Riverview (18-13) fought back and narrowed the gap to 21-19 on a three-point play by Nate Brown. But a three-pointer from Kyle Kostyun and the foul-shooting strategy quickly gave Gaither a comfortable 33-23 halftime lead and eventually the game.
The Cowboys poured on the points via the free throw line in the second half, building a lead as high as 14 points before the Rams made a second-half run to narrow the margin. Marcus Russell ended the game with 21 points while Antonio Russell added 14. Huebner dropped in 11 points and added 10 rebounds and seven steals and a fourth-quarter dunk that put an exclamation point on the victory.
"We set the tone by rebounding tonight," said Olinger. "That and getting to the free throw line. That's our game and we knew we had to do that tonight." -- ROD GIPSON
Bradenton Manatee topped Bloomingdale 59-52 in a Class 6A, Region 2 quarterfinal at Manatee.
Manatee (20-10) will meet Winter Park -- a 59-50 winner over Vero Beach -- in Tuesday's region semifinals. Bloomingdale ended the season 12-14. -- TIMES STAFF
TAMPA -- Assistant coach Ed Flom raised a marker board as he left Plant's dressing room following Thursday's Class 5A, Region 3 quarterfinal.
The word "character" was at the top of the board. Below, Flom wrote, "We are proud of each one of you."
Plant rallied from a nine-point deficit, then made 12 of 15 foul shots in the fourth quarter to hold off Brandon 72-63 before a standing room only crowd at Coleman Middle School.
Guard Tyler Azzarelli understood Flom's message.
"Poise down the stretch was what won us the game," he said.
The roles were reversed a year ago as Brandon beat Plant four times on its way to the state championship game.
This season, Plant (25-4) swept the two-game series. The Panthers will host Countryside -- a 54-51 winner over Land O'Lakes -- in Tuesday's regional semifinals.
"You saw it came down to free throws," said Plant coach Mike Phillips, who turned 39 on Thursday. "The kids practice that every day."
Azzarelli made 8 of 10 foul shots and finished with a team-high 21 points. His three-pointer with 11 seconds left in the third quarter gave Plant a 46-45 lead, capping a 15-5 run that brought the Panthers back from a 40-31 deficit.
Plant's Brad Birrenkott scored six of his eight points in the third quarter. Mike Williams (12 points) and Adam Bishop (nine) also played important roles for the Panthers.
Brandon's Dwan Brookins led all scorers with 24 points, including four three-pointers. The Eagles finished the season 19-10 despite graduating all five starters from last season's state runner-up.
"I'm real proud of these kids," coach Mark Hermann said. "To go 19-10 after losing seven seniors, that just shows how strong our program is." -- FRANK PASTOR
Port Charlotte defeated King 58-49 in a Class 5A, Region 3 quarterfinal at Port Charlotte.
Port Charlotte (20-10) will play Boca Ciega in Tuesday's regional semifinals. Boca Ciega (18-10) defeated Palm Harbor U. 59-54 in overtime in another quarterfinal.
King finished the season 15-10. -- TIMES STAFF