Patriots survive scare in semifinals from Hillsborough
By Kyle LoJacono
It was almost a repeat of last year when the Freedom High girls basketball team suffered an early exit in the Class 5A-District 9 tournament.
With 2.7 seconds left in overtime in the district semifinals Feb. 2, Patriots senior point guard Kaitlynn Pacholke stepped to the line and nailed a free throw, giving her squad a 53-52 lead against Hillsborough High.
Freedom (20-5) held on to win by the same score, avenging a loss to the Terriers (9-13) in last year’s district tournament that ended its season. The Patriots went on to defeat Sickles High 68-65 in the finals Feb. 4.
“That wasn’t a very pretty game for us,” said Freedom coach Laurie Pacholke after the semifinals. “We missed a lot of free throws and let them hang in there. I was having visions of last year.”
The Patriots were the No. 1 seed in the tournament at Gaither High, going 9-1 in the district during the regular season. However, the No. 2 seed Gryphons entered the event winning eight of their last nine contests and as a much more explosive squad than the one Freedom defeated 69-32 in December.
The Gryphons (16-10) had some injuries to starters this year, including leading scorers Amber Henson and Bre Crum.
“They have some good players in Henson and Crum, but I think we have more options and work together better as a team,” Laurie said, who coached at Land O’ Lakes two seasons ago.
Kaitlynn, who is Laurie’s daughter, helps create that balanced team attack with her passes. She averages 8.6 assists per contest, the fourth most in Florida, while adding 15.4 points and 5.6 rebounds.
In the title game, Kaitlynn had 26 points, while senior Lindsay Taggart and junior Shade Williams added 14 and 17 respectively.
Henson led the way for Sickles in the finals with 31 points and Crum added 23, but the Gryphons got only 11 points from other players.
Freedom will next host Punta Gorda Charlotte at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 10.