Since 2010, state powerhouse Dunbar has served as a major road block each year in the Bishop Verot girls basketball team’s quest for a district title.
With the Tigers moving out of the district this season, the Vikings jumped at the first opportunity to capitalize. Verot (14-10) overcame a rash of injuries and finished off its run to a District 4A-10 championship with a 32-27 victory over Gateway Charter in the final Thursday at Oasis High.
“They found a way,” said Verot coach Mark Kramer said. “They came together from the beginning and look at the result – a district title.”
After losing starters Jessica Weeks and Elizabeth Dinsmore to injuries at the beginning of the season, hoisting hardware and hosting the runner-up of District 4A-9 – Tampa Catholic or Tampa Brooks DeBartolo Collegiate – on Thursday in a regional quarterfinal seemed like a long shot.
Cassidy Kramer’s ACL tear two weeks ago didn’t help either.
Playing in a more balanced district where the first, second and third place were separated by a game in the standings gave the Vikings hope.
“It was more competitive,” Kramer said. “It prepared us better for the state tournament.”
Verot seized the game in the final minutes against upstart Gateway (13-8), which will make its first postseason appearance in program history next week.
The Vikings led 26-23 at the end of the third quarter, but the Griffins took a one-point lead on a Briana Young jumper with 5:30 to play.
Junior Olivia Woolam, who finished with 12 points, answered back with a 3-pointer from the corner for the Vikings.
Up 30-27 in the last minute, Verot had to make three stops to sew up its first district crown in six years. The Vikings forced two key turnovers and had to hold their breath on an Autumn Jackson 3 from the corner that rimmed out with under 30 seconds to play.
Freshman Claire Woolam (13 points) sealed the victory with two late free throws.
“We love it when our shots are falling,” Kramer said. “They didn’t tonight, but they were able to come together as a team and win it anyway. I’m so proud of these girls.”
Gateway freshman Tamia Battle led her team with nine points.
The Griffins carried on their magical run in the district tournament that started down 11-3 against Oasis earlier in the week. At that point, senior Tiara Duckworth made three steals and scored six points in a nine-second span, momentum Gateway road to a win and then a nail-biting finish against Verot.
“The school has just shown this team so much support,” Griffins coach Jeff Armsworth said. “Everyone is just so excited to still be playing. Any basketball that we can play beyond this point is a blessing and a great learning experience.”