Tampa Catholic staged a second-half rally, took a last-minute lead and then held its breath and outlasted Orlando Bishop Moore 43-42 to earn the Class 3A state title.
Defended out of its normal run-and-gun, up-tempo style by Bishop Moore, Tampa Catholic trailed 18-15 at the half. But the Crusaders shook off a dismal first half and opened the second with a run that put them back in contention. Tampa Catholic seniors Sarah Brennan and Colette Eule were huge in their final high school games.
Eule, who scored 18 points in the game, hit four free throws in the final minute, as Tampa Catholic’s rally finally turned positive, resulting in a one-point advantage. Brennan finished the contest with 14 points and Kai Jones added 10.
But up by one, Tampa Catholic had to survive 15 final seconds and three Bishop Moore shots at a game-winner, which all bounced off the rim. The victory marked the first girls basketball state championship for a Tampa Bay-area team since 1996.
Tampa Catholic coach Nancy Kroll had a hand in that title as well – she was an assistant on that 1996 Tampa Academy of Holy Names team that won the Class 2A state championship. Her late husband Craig Keeler was the head coach. Now that their prep careers have ended, Eule and Brennan can look forward to their college plans. Eule will play at the Air Force Academy while Brennan will remain local, signing with the University of Tampa.
Best of Tampa Bay
Tampa Jefferson’s girls basketball ended its best season in program history with a loss in the Class 4A state semifinals. Jefferson fell 65-46 to Pensacola, which was making its fourth trip to the state semifinals in the past five seasons. The Dragons were led by Shayla Wilson, who scored 11 points and pulled down 12 rebounds. Jefferson finished the season 28-4.
At the state wrestling tournament, Brandon was its usual dominant self. The Eagles had six wrestlers take state championships and a total of 10 medals to win the program’s 10th straight state championship and 21st overall. Clark Glass (145 pounds), Rossi Bruno (119), Kevin Norstrem (125), Joe Cozart (152), Tyler Liberatore (130) and Henry Chirino (285) all took first place in their weight classes to lead Brandon.
Also, New Port Richey Gulf won its first wrestling state championship, taking the Class A crown after first-place finishes from Anthony Ayers at the 119-pound level and Ladarious Jackson at 152. Other Bay area wrestlers to bring home state titles included Tampa Bay Christian’s James Flint (Class A 103), Plant City Durant’s T.J. Davis (Class 2A 152) and St. Petersburg Northside Christian’s Dalton Dennis (Class A 125).
Two Bay area softball pitchers are coming off dominant outings. St. Petersburg Catholic hurler and Notre Dame signee Chloe Saganowich struck out 16 batters in SPC’s 10-0 win against Clearwater Central Catholic. Saganowich only faced 20 batters in the six-inning win and gave up one hit. She also hit a triple. Meanwhile, Pinellas Park pitcher Sara Nevins fanned 18 batters in a two-hit 8-0 win against Pinellas Park. Nevins also opened the game’s scoring with a two-run home run.
Tampa Sickles standout basketball player Amber Henson has committed to Duke. Henson, who also was weighing offers from Florida, LSU, Maryland, North Carolina and Texas, led the Gryphons to the Class 5A region finals. The 6-foot-4 Henson averaged 21 points, five rebounds and three blocks a game. Henson’s brother John will be just eight miles away, as he is a freshman basketball player this season at North Carolina.
Other Bay area happenings
Jesuit (Tampa) has selected former Tampa Freedom coach James Harrell as its head football coach. Harrell, a former assistant at Jesuit and at Tampa Plant spent a year as the head coach at Freedom before returning to Jesuit. Harrell went 7-3-1 in his only season at Freedom, leading to Patriots to a playoff appearance.
Leto (Tampa) has a new football coach, as well. Hugh Dehnert is out and ex-Clearwater Central Catholic coach Mike Jalazo is in. Jalazo coached CCC for eight seasons, winning 55 games and reaching the postseason six times. At Leto, he’ll find a program that has not had a winning season or reached the postseason since 1999. The Falcons went 2-7 in 2009 under Dehnert, who resigned last month.