BRADENTON -- At times the Southeast High gymnasium looked like the land of the Lilliputians.
St. Petersburg Lakewood towered over the host Seminoles girls basketball team and was dominating the offensive boards to get layups and putbacks.
But as the Southeast program has proven under head coach John Harder, if the girls can't beat you one way, they will find another.
The Seminoles put relentless pressure on the Spartans and finally whittled them down to size in the fourth quarter when they turned the ball over 10 times.
Their work gave Harder his 21st district basketball title with a scintillating come from behind 53-51 victory over Lakewood on Friday night to take home the Class 5A-District 11 crown.
"This is one for the history books. I am talking story-book story," Harder declared after the game. "A freshman makes a free throw with 11 seconds left. Free throws win games. I've been saying it since John Wooden taught me at age 5. and doggone if we didn't win the game on a free throw by a freshman. It was our 21st, but I don't remember the other 20 right now."
It was pick-your-hero night, and there were so many choices no one would complain.
You could start with Deija Snipes, a freshman, who was brought up the varsity about two weeks ago. With the score tied at 51, she was fouled after getting a steal and converted one of two attempts with 11 seconds remaining in the game.
After Lakewood was called for traveling with 5.1 seconds left, senior Breyonna Reed sank one of two foul shots. After her miss, Lakewood could not get the ball down court to get a shot, and bedlam erupted in the House that Harder built.
"It was almost like I had seen this game yesterday and played it all out in my head. It kept me up all night," Harder said. "I woke up at 3:30 and never went back to sleep trying to analyze what this would be. This is one of those treasures that as a coach you keep forever."
Snipes only had three points (all free throws) but hit the biggest one when it mattered most. Despite being the smallest player on the court, she had four rebounds and dished out four assists with two steals.
"I was nervous when I was at the free throw line at the end. It was hard, but we stayed in the game with our defense came and through at the end," Snipes said.
Southeast trailed from midway through the second quarter and was down 44-38 at the outset of the fourth period. The Seminoles kept chipping away and used its defense to force nine turnovers in the last four minutes.
The Seminoles finally caught Lakewood at 51-51 with 46 seconds left when they got a steal and Shauntavia Green took it the near lenghth of the court for a layup.
The junior was again the catalyst for the Seminoles with a team high 18 points and eight steals.
"We won because we were dishing the ball, getting steals and taking it the basket and getting easy shots," Green said. "I watch the ball all the time. You can't stay still if you want to get the steal."
After Snipes free throw, Reed, who was plagued with foul trouble all game, made the final point of the game. The senior finished with 12 points and dished out six assists and kept telling her teammates not to be intimidated by Lakewood's size.
"The least that I owed my team was hitting one of them at the end because I was in foul trouble," Reed said. "We are very athletic and I told the girls to run, run and at least try to get them in foul trouble and play physical. It's special to beat Lakewood because this is such a big rivalry. We crept up on them like last time."
The Seminoles' relentless defense forced 28 Lakewood turnovers. The Spartans (18-8) hurt themselves on the free-throw line, converting only five of 21 attempts. Southeast shot 15-22 from the charity stripe.
Marline Valcine led Southeast on the boards with 11 rebounds and had seven points, and Faith Mayes had nine points.
"I zone in the fits half so we wouldn't get in foul trouble and keep them rested," Harder said. "In the fourth quarter we went to a full court press and that's what won it. I never use a zone, but felt it was a good idea tonight."