PALMETTO -- As pleased as he was with the result, Robert Kelly was even happier with how it happened.
Palmetto's girls basketball coach has watched his players flatten out after halftime a few too many times this winter. Monday, however, he watched them reverse that, as the Tigers used a strong second half to defeat Braden River 71-54 in a Class 7A-District 10 quarterfinal.
The tournament's fourth seed, Palmetto (19-9) visits top-seeded Lakewood Ranch at 7 p.m. Wednesday in a semifinal. The winner advances to Friday's district championship game and next week's regional playoffs.
"We talked about it - 'We cannot come out flat against this team,'" Kelly said. "We had to come out and play; we had to do what we needed to do overall, as players and as coaches. We had to make the adjustments on the fly and the players had to make the adjustments on the fly; we had to communicate on the court and off the court, and I thought we did a pretty good job of that (Monday)."
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The pesky Pirates stuck with Palmetto throughout the first half and trailed 27-23 heading into the break before trimming the deficit to three points 10 seconds after halftime.
Then the Tigers pulled away, going on an 8-0 run that triggered a 21-10 advantage in the third quarter. Though its best player, Jermisha Collins, sat for most of the period after taking an elbow to the nose, Palmetto took control thanks mostly to Tina Stephens, who had 10 points in the third and was 8-for-9 from the foul line.
Stephens finished with 21 points and five rebounds.
"That's what it's all about - this is the time you've got to show all the work you put in is paying off," Kelly said. "We're beginning to see it, but we've still got a ways to go."
Jasmin Garibay also contributed down the stretch for the Tigers, scoring 10 of her 12 points in the second half.
Kelly Logan had 25 points for the Pirates (6-20).
"Like I told our girls at the conclusion of the game, too many times in life we look at wins and losses," said Braden River coach Carl Williams. "I look at the steps we've taken. Did we help to create model young ladies? I like to think so. We try to do the right thing, act appropriately, don't do dirty stuffAnd if you continue to do that, 6-20 will become 20-6."
Palmetto split with the Mustangs during the regular season, losing 60-38 on Dec. 3 at Lakewood Ranch and winning 44-39 on Jan. 6 in Palmetto.
MaxPreps ranks the Mustangs fifth in the state in Class 7A.
"We've got to minimize turnovers and we've got to get on the glass. Got to get on the glass because they're going to get on the glass," Kelly said. "If we minimize turnovers and get on the glass with them, it will be a good game."