By James Bennett, Jr, Ledger Correspondent
TAMPA – Tuesday night was H.B. Plant head basketball coach Carrie L. Mahon’s birthday, and she received her gift when her Panthers were able to defeat the Bartow Yellow Jackets in a narrow 71-65 victory at Vincent J. Sussman Gymnasium in Tampa. Plant will host another team from Polk County, the Winter Haven Lady Blue Devils on Valentine’s Day Tuesday night in the 8A Regional Semifinals.
The Panthers (28-1) were able to remain undefeated on their home court thanks to 25 points from senior guard Peyton Paro and 20 points from senior Bella Moreno. The pair dueled with Bartow seniors Alexandria Morris and Courtajia Sanders on both sides of the ball.
Sanders had 24 points and Morris six points did most of her work on the defensive end of the court; she regularly stripped Paro and Moreno while the Plant guards had their eyes on rim protectors Sanders, who is 5’11” and junior BriShonne Tollie, who is 6’1″. Tollie was also the second leading scorer for the Yellow Jackets (17-9) with 22 points.
“Mahon said after the game,” “Number 23 and 24 really made it difficult for us. We couldn’t get our shots like we usually do.”
“My seniors turned up,” said Bartow head coach Panchita Jackson. “They played well. I was very proud of Courtajia Sanders and Alexandria Morris. They never quit. They did everything they could to help us to win.”
In the first half of the game the play was physical without many fouls. In the second half of the game Plant reached the bonus with more than six minutes remaining in the third quarter. Despite this, Bartow forced turnovers and a went on an 12-4 run in the fourth quarter to narrow the gap to 63-61 with 1:22 left. Plant reached the double bonus 30 seconds later when Bartow freshman Tyshonne Tollie was called for her fifth foul on a Plant drive attempt.
On Bartow’s next possession, Morris made a 20 foot jumper that counted for two points, making the score 69-65. The Yellow Jackets were forced to foul Paro and she sealed the game from the free-throw line.
“The ending of the game is a disappointment to us as Bartow fans,” Jackson said. “We just had too many turnovers.”
Peyton Paro has received an offer from Emory University in Atlanta but she is also an applicant for the Naval Academy. Mahon said that Paro has received letters of recommendations from many local officials, including Sen. Marco Rubio.
“That’s my number one goal,” Paro said.”I just feel like I’m an athlete and I can serve my country while being an athlete. I feel like that’s a really good option for me. If I don’t get into the Naval Academy I would like to play basketball somewhere.”