Last year, an agonizing two-point loss to Punta Gorda Charlotte in the region finals prevented Clearwater from reaching the state semifinals.
The Tornadoes vowed to not let that happen again.
They played travel ball to stay sharp. They put together a brutally challenging schedule to prepare for a deep playoff run. And they used that loss as a powerful motivator.
Then, Clearwater suffered a different setback.
Liv Fuller, a four-year starter who signed with Georgia Southern, tore the anterior cruciate ligament, sidelining her for the season.
That seemingly put an end to the Tornadoes’ state final four hopes.
But it did not deter Clearwater.
The matchups were still tough. Losses piled up.
Still, the Tornadoes stayed together.
And they kept getting better.
After a 1-5 stretch last month, Clearwater bounced back with a win over Gibbs for the program’s fourth straight Pinellas County Athletic Conference title.
In the district tournament and playoffs, the Tornadoes became unstoppable.
Entering Friday’s region final, Clearwater had won five straight games – the past four by 54 or more points.
There was not another rout of that magnitude, but the Tornadoes stayed comfortably ahead of Port Charlotte, building a 12-point lead after the first quarter to cruise to a 70-59 win.
Clearwater freshman Allevia Williams scored a team-high 24 points, including six 3-pointers. Ace Sturdivant showed leadership. Pink Sturdivant displayed tenacity.
The goal was accomplished.
Afterward, the players posed for pictures. They cut down the net.
This week, they head to Lakeland’s RP Funding Center arena for the state semifinals.
Only this time, the focus will not be on just making it there.
The task is to win it all.