BRADENTON -- Heading into last season’s 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 didn’t happen -- Southeast fell in double overtime during the semifinals -- the Seminoles and their head coach took it hard.
“We cried,” John Harder said. “I couldn’t 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 year’s 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 Division’s other semifinal, in the championship game.
“To get back to the finals of the Christmas tournament, which we haven’t done in a couple of years, is big for these kids right now,” Harder said. “I’m 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 they’re silly and they don’t know yet if they’re a kid or an adult,” Harder said, “and that’s how my team plays. They’re fooling around out there ... but they’re not really fooling around. That’s just their nature -- they’re 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 Southeast’s old gym, which is also known as Seminole Alley.