PINELLAS PARK - Pinellas Park is one game from its first state semifinal, though it came within one half of watching its dream go poof.
Riding a red-hot first half to lead by double digits for most of its Class 5A region semifinal, the Patriots had to hang on from the free-throw line to defeat Plant 67-61 Tuesday night.
The victory sends the Patriots (27-4) into Saturday's region final against Lakewood, a team they have split two games with this season.
They'll have to do a better job on the boards and protecting the ball, because Plant (23-5) was able to take advantage of both shortcomings to rally.
Namely, the Panthers rode Sheldon Cooley back from a 38-19 halftime deficit, getting within one shot numerous times in the final minutes.
But because Cooley, who had a game-high 27 points, wasn't able to get a rest due to the big deficit, he tired late.
"That was tough," Plant coach Mike Phillips said. "You make a run and make a run, and eventually you run out of gas. He had no legs in the fourth quarter."
Trailing 50-36 entering the fourth, Plant pulled within three points, but the Patriots were clutch from the line.
"Cooley dominated the third quarter," point guard Cam Carden said. "But we stuck our free throws when we needed to. I knew we'd win the game there."
The Patriots made 14-of-20 in the final 3:51, and center Jake Troyli was 11-of-12 to finish with a team-high 18 points.
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