Charlotte JV girls coach Chris Stephenson told his team “you found a way to win and I’m so proud of you.”
In the first Charlotte JV girls basketball tournament, that is so new it didn’t even have a name or sponsor yet, the Tarpons played four games in seven hours and avenged an earlier defeat to give Riverview their first loss of the season to capture the championship.
The Tarpons’ first opponent had to drop out of the tournament so instead of playing at 11 a.m., the Tarpons had a scrimmage with themselves to get ready for a long day of basketball.
The Tarpons took the court at 3 p.m. after waiting for over five hours to play their first game. They played a very athletic Winter Haven team and after a slow start the Tarpons went on to win 50-27. Kassidy Hopper led the Tarpons with 14 points with Maya Joseph also reaching double figures with 12.
Their next game was with undefeated Riverview. The Tarpons held a 12-point lead but watched it disappear like a snowman in July. The Tarpons clung to a 3-point lead with 31 seconds left in the game. With the game tied and with seven seconds left, the Tarpons had the ball.
A terrible inbound pass that went all the way to the other end of the court gave Riverview the ball under their own basket. A quick layup gave the Tarpons their first loss of the season at 35-33.
Working their way out of the loser’s bracket the Tarpons again met with Winter Haven. This time the Tarpons got out to a 10 point lead after the first period and won with a nearly identical score as their first game 50-22.
Alyssa Mincieli led the Tarpons with 11 points with Alex Vega, Tykiriah Thomas and Makayla Beardsworth all adding seven points each in the win.
There was no break for Charlotte as they stayed on the court to face Riverview for the championship. Riverview had a break between their games so they were well rested as they watched the Tarpons in the semifinal game with Winter Haven. It was payback time for the Tarpons as they took their 8-1 record into the finals with Riverview still undefeated at 9-0 for the season.
The score was tied at 6 at the end of the first period and then again at 12 late in the second period. Then the Tarpons shooting got cold or it may have been fatigue, but Riverview went on a 7-0 run to end the half with a 19-12 lead.
Charlotte came alive after the break outscoring Riverview 11-3 to take a one point lead into the final period. They could have blown the game wide open but missed free throws (12-28 for the game) and missed opportunities in the paint left the door open for Riverview.
Trailing 27-26, freshman Vega took over. Her bucket gave the Tarpons the lead 28-27. Tied at 28, Vega again found the bottom of the net to take a 30-28 lead. Tied again at 30, Vega’s two free throws put the Tarpons ahead 32-30.
With just 40 seconds left and the score tied at 32, it was Vega again with a nice turnaround jumper to give the Tarpons a 34-32 lead. With 1.6 seconds left in the game, Riverview went to the free throw line for two shots.
The first shot was perfect as it didn’t touch the rim or the glass and slipped through the net to make it a one point game. With the mojo and confidence high, the second shot was about to be taken when Stephenson called timeout to ice the shooter. It worked as the second free throw hit the rim and came down into the arms of Alyssia Baker to secure the 34-33 win.
Vega, who led the Tarpons with 11 points including 8 in the final 3 ½ minutes, said. “I just knew that someone on the team had to step up and take over so we don’t lose again. I knew that if it wasn’t going to be anyone else then I’d better do it.”
It was an excellent team effort as six players were within 3 points of each other for scoring in the four games. Joseph and Vega scored 24, Hopper and Beardsworth totaled 23 with Thomas adding 22 and Mincieli 21. Hopper took home scoring honors in the first two games with Mincieli and Vega taking games three and four with 11 points each.
So the inaugural JV tournament was in the books. It was 12 hours from the first shot to the final buzzer and two teams left the gym with identical 9-1 records as both Charlotte and Riverview got the satisfaction of giving the other team their first defeat of the season. The good thing was that the Tarpons did it when it mattered most and came home with the trophy.