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Veterans lead Plant girls to state basketball final

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Opponents often find Plant’s efficient, mistake-free style of play difficult to handle. That was not the case in Thursday’s Class 7A state semifinal.

Orange Park Oakleaf had all the necessary intangibles to keep up: speed, athleticism, defensive tenacity. For nearly two quarters, the game was tight. Early in the second quarter, the Knights even held a 21-20 lead.

But the Panthers had one key factor that proved to be the difference: experience.

Ten of Plant’s 13 players from last season’s team that reached the state championship game for the first time in school history were back, including senior standouts Kendal Cheesman and Nyla Jean. Oakleaf, meanwhile, was playing in the state semifinals for the first time and were led by a trio of sophomores —  Taliah Scott, Fantasia James and Kaylah Turner. 

There was no getting flustered, no panic at facing an early deficit. The Panthers’ veterans knew what to do. They turned up the intensity. They stayed composed. They made all the right moves.

And they won 69-52 to move on to Saturday’s final. Plant (24-3) will face the Palm Beach Lakes-Miami High winner with a chance to win the school’s first state title.

After trailing by a point, the Panthers went on a tear, outscoring the Knights 24-15 in the second quarter to go into the half with a 44-36 lead. 

Early in the  third quarter, the lead stretched to double digits. 

Jean led Plant in scoring with 26 points to go along with 10 rebounds and five assists. Cheesman finished with 21 points and a team-high 16 rebounds.

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The Hillsborough County Football Player of the Week

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LB/S Cole Highsmith, Jr., Plant City

After becoming a starter as a sophomore last season, Cole Highsmith took on a more prominent role as one of the leaders of Plant City’s defense. 

He took on that task by making play after play. 

This season, Highsmith has recorded 73 tackles and six sacks. Those totals already surpassed what he ended up with last year. 

Against Bloomingdale two weeks ago, Highsmith had 13 tackles, two sacks and an interception to lead the Raiders to victory. 

Fans paid attention. Highsmith received 50 percent of the votes (746) in the Hillsborough County football player of the week poll to beat out Wharton’s Daveon Crouch, who had 25 percent (376 votes). 

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Thursday night football forecast

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Seffner Christian (2-3) at St. Petersburg Catholic (3-3), 7

After starting 2-0, the visiting Crusaders have lost three straight. The host Barons, meanwhile, have rebounded from a 1-2 start to win two of their last three games. 

Putnam’s prediction: St. Petersburg Catholic 30-28

Gibbs (3-3) at Tarpon Springs (3-3), 7

An important Class 5A, District 10 game for both teams not only to stay in the mix for a title but also to get above .500 for the season. 

Putnam’s prediction: Gibbs 34-21 

Clearwater (5-1) at Anclote (1-5), 7:30

The Tornadoes have won five straight and are the clear favorite to the Class 5A, District 10 title. The host Sharks are on a two-game losing streak. 

Putnam’s prediction: Clearwater 42-7

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Thursday sports schedule (Oct. 14)

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What to watch

Volleyball

Sunlake (12-5) at Wesley Chapel (13-4), 6

The Seahawks, who have won four straight, try to maintain their streak against the Wildcats in a rematch from last week that Sunlake took in five sets. 

Palm Harbor University (14-8) at Mitchell (18-0), 6:30

The Mustangs have a shot at going undefeated in the regular season. To do that, Mitchell has get the Hurricanes, who have turned things around. 

St. Petersburg (15-8) at East Lake (16-7), 7

The Pinellas County Athletic Conference final is between teams with impressive streaks. The Green Devils have won seven straight while the host Eagles have won five in a row. East Lake has owned the series this season, sweeping its rival in the previous three meetings. 

Newsome (16-7) at Bloomingdale (11-5), 7:30

Both teams have won three straight heading into their regular season finale. 

The schedules

Volleyball

Solid Rock Christian at Grace Christian, 4:30

Zephyrhills Christian at Hernando Christian, 5

Hillsborough Baptist at Foundation Christian, 5

Tampa Prep at Ocala Trinity Catholic, 5:30

Oldsmar Christian at Elfers Christian, 5:30

Brandon Academy at Universal Academy, 6

Sunlake at Wesley Chapel, 6

Tampa Bay HEAT at Shorecrest, 6

Weeki Wachee at Hernando, 6:30

Wiregrass Ranch at Anclote, 6:30

Carrollwood Day at Calvary Christian, 6:30

Citrus at Nature Coast, 6:30

Palm Harbor University at Mitchell, 6:30

St. Petersburg Catholic at Sarasota Christian, 7

Zephyrhills at Gulf, 7

Gulf Coast HEAT at Tampa SLAM, 7

Seven Rivers Christian at Cambridge Christian, 7

Alonso at Freedom, 7

Crystal River at Springstead, 7

St. Petersburg at East Lake, 7

Central at Lecanto, 7:30

Sumner at Brandon, 7:30

Cypress Creek at Pasco, 7:30

Tampa Bay Tech at Gaither, 7:30

River Ridge at Hudson, 7:30

Riverview at East Bay, 7:30

Newsome at Bloomingdale, 7:30

Spoto at Durant, 7:30

Middleton at Leto, 7:30

Plant at Robinson, 7:30

Jefferson at Armwood, 7:30

Indian Rocks Christian at Countryside, 7:30

Swimming

Plant at Berkeley Prep, 5

Tampa Prep at Berkeley Prep, 5:30

Lennard, Riverview at East Bay (Apollo Beach), 6

Blake, Leto at Hillsborough (Copeland), 6

Spoto, Tampa Bay Tech at Plant City (Plant CityYMCA), 6

Freedom at Academy of the Holy Names, 6:30

Steinbrenner, Wharton at Robinson (Bobby Hicks), 6:30

Gaither at Middleton (Cyrus Green), 6:30

Spoto, Sumner at Jefferson (Interbay), 6:30

Brandon, Tampa Bay HEAT at Bloomingdale (High five), 7

Golf 

East Bay at Riverview (boys), 2

Hillsborough at Leto (boys), 2:30

Freedom at Jesuit (boys), 2:30

Alonso at Chamberlain (boys), 3

Sickles at Jefferson (boys/girls), 3

Steinbrenner at Gaither (boys), 3

Newsome at Plant City (boys), 3

Sumner at King (boys/girls), 3:30

Plant at Robinson (boys), 3:30

Berkeley Prep at Tampa Prep, 4

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