BRADENTON -- Heading into last seasons Willie Clemons Girls Holiday Basketball Classic, Southeast had one goal in mind: Meet Tampa Catholic, the defending Class 3A state champion that had knocked Southeast out of the regional finals in 2009, in the championship game.
And when that didnt happen -- Southeast fell in double overtime during the semifinals -- the Seminoles and their head coach took it hard.
We cried, John Harder said. I couldnt get them out of the locker room.
Cheers instead of tears flowed from the Seminoles locker room one year later after Southeast throttled St. Petersburg Gibbs 63-24 on Tuesday during the semifinals of this years Seminole Division.
The Seminoles (11-3) will look to win their tournament for the first time since 2009 at 4 p.m. today when they face Tampa Sickles, a 62-61 winner over Tampa Catholic during the Seminole Divisions other semifinal, in the championship game.
To get back to the finals of the Christmas tournament, which we havent done in a couple of years, is big for these kids right now, Harder said. Im proud and happy.
He was a little surprised, too. Following a close first quarter, when Southeast took a 12-11 lead just before the buzzer, the Seminoles outscored Gibbs (10-4) 41-7 in the middle two quarters.
Consequently, Southeast triggered a running clock, which springs into action when a team takes a 35-point lead in the second half, for the second straight day.
I wanted to play in a tough bracket, Harder said. I just never thought the first two games would go quite as smooth.
Powering the Noles was a precocious brand of sophomores led by DeAngela Mathis (25 points), Keshawna Robinson (17 points), Bevin Mays (16 points) and Janelle Gould (two points).
Sophomores are just fun and theyre silly and they dont know yet if theyre a kid or an adult, Harder said, and thats how my team plays. Theyre fooling around out there ... but theyre not really fooling around. Thats just their nature -- theyre happy children.
I just had fun (Tuesday).
GULFPORT BOCA CIEGA 62, LAKEWOOD RANCH 31 -- The Mustangs fell to the Pirates in the semifinals of the Gators Division.
The Mustangs (8-6) led 9-5 with 2:34 remaining in the first quarter after Emily Bulfin buried a 3-pointer. But the Pirates (11-5) took a 10-9 lead just before the quarter ended and ended the half on 25-7 run.
Lakewood Ranch, which has been bit by an assortment of injuries and illness this season, was paced by Gabriella Diaz-Granados, its lone senior. She had 15 points, while Bulfin added five and Gwen Nicholas had four.
The Mustangs face Riverview in a consolation game at 5:30 p.m. today in Southeasts old gym, which is also known as Seminole Alley.