LARGO — Too quick, too strong, too tall and, at least on Thursday, just too darned good.
In a pair of games that finished with mercy rule-induced running clocks, top seeds Seffner Christian and Carrollwood Day easily defeated their respective foes and will play each other Friday night at Indian Rocks Christian for the Class 4A-4 title.
Impressive stretches of shut-down defense led to runs of lightning-quick offense for Seffner, setting a definitive tone in a 74-31 decision over Tampa Prep.
Savvy half-court pressure from Nykeria Reed and Audra Leipold created scoring chances for Caroline Cabina and Semera Wilson as part of a 10-0, 2 1/2-minute run. Combined with a nine-point run set up by two more Reed steals, the Crusaders (16-13, 9-1 in 4A-4) blasted off to a 34-11 advantage, steadily stretching the lead until kicking in the 35-point mercy rule with five minutes left in the third quarter.
Reed finished with seven of Seffner's 18 steals in the game, adding 12 points as part of an evolving Crusader attack.
"We'd been playing with a more structure-based offense earlier this year, but we've gone to more of a read-and-react offense lately and they've kind of taken to that," said Seffner coach Joe Cooper. "We have good players, high IQ kids, so it makes things easier to switch when we have to."
Mobile junior Brylee Bartram excelled in all aspects of her game as her 17-point, 11-rebound, seven-assist and four-steal stat line would attest.
"A lot of people look at Brylee as strictly a shooter, and she's set the county record for 3-pointers two years in a row, but she's really expanded her game," Cooper said. "She's a big-time contributor in rebounding, she finds her teammates with good passes and she's gotten a lot better defensively. She's a good all-around player."
"You play better when you play unselfishly," Bartram said. "When you share the ball, make the extra pass … better shots come from good ball movement."
Leipold (game-high 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting, five assists and five rebounds) aided Seffner's quick start with nine first-quarter points while Wilson netted eight of her 10 points in the first half, adding six boards.
Tampa Prep (14-7, 6-3) was led by Jaylen Williams with 15 points.
In the nightcap, early Calvary Christian energy and a spate of fouls flummoxed No. 1 seed Carrollwood Day, which emerged with a 10-7 lead after one quarter.
The sleeping giant awoke with a roar as the Patriots rode its edges in height and size to a 25-point halftime advantage and rolled to a 62-26 victory.
Carrollwood (24-2, 8-0) attacked the glass, pulling down 14 offensive rebounds in the first half and limiting Calvary (17-8, 5-4) to one shot per possession, if that. The Warriors could only get eight shots off in the decisive second stanza, four fewer than the Patriots made, while suffering seven giveaways.
"Calvary came out with a good game plan," Carrollwood coach Karim Nohra said. "They played with a lot of energy, more than we were, and were doubling us down low. We missed too many easy gimmes and that's not a good thing when playing in the playoffs. When we picked up our tempo, things definitely improved."
Point guard Jaden Harris (11 points and four steals) ran the Patriot attack well, and once Weeyah McGill (game-high 18 points with 17 rebounds, 11 off the offensive glass), Ary Dizon (10 points and 12 boards) and Tiasia McMillan (13 points and nine boards) established themselves in the paint, the game was over.
"We mainly wanted to come out with the first punch," McGill said. "The more aggressive team wins so we wanted to be more aggressive."
Only three Calvary players scored, led by 12 points from Brooke Westhoelter.
Carrollwood will be shorthanded in Friday's final as starters Tarriyonna Gary (ankle injury in practice) and CC Mays (right ankle injury suffered Thursday) will be on the bench.
"Seffner's a solid shooting team that plays good defense," Nohra said. "We'll see what happens (Friday), but at least we're in regionals and that's all that matters."
Negating the Patriots' height advantage will be Job No. 1 for the Crusaders.
"They outrebounded us by a lot when we played earlier (a 35-point win in mid-January) and we didn't shoot very well," Cooper said. "We've worked hard the past few weeks because we felt there was a good chance we'd (play Carrollwood) again."