Tigers drop heartbreaker to Benjamin in closing seconds of regional quarterfinal

Holy Trinity's Ionna Garcia (No. 21) scored 31 points to lead the Tigers in Thursday night's Class 3A regional quarterfinal against Benjamin. Unfortunately for Holy Trinity, it was Benjamin that came away with a 75-73 win in the closing seconds.

There was only one thing players on the Holy Trinity girls basketball team wanted to know after their heartbreaking loss in the Class 3A regional quarterfinals Thursday night.

When can they get back on the court?

Caught up in a back-and-forth battle with Benjamin of Palm Beach Gardens, the Tigers had the ball and a chance to tie or win the game in the closing seconds before losing control of the ball and having it go out of bounds. That sealed a 75-73 loss to the visiting Buccaneers.

But as tough as it was to see their season come to an end, the Tigers clearly intend to use it as fuel for next year.

“That’s what we talked about afterward – take this as a learning experience,” Holy Trinity coach Jay Castillo said. “We lost to a good team. What we do now will determine (the winner if) we maybe see them again next year.

“I think they were all receptive to that. They brought it up as a team and were actually asking when our next practice is.”

It wasn’t as if the Tigers (16-4) didn’t play well Thursday night.

Sophomore Ionna Garcia had 31 points and Alinah Sarratt had 21 to lead Holy Trinity. Sophomore Lynn Reith had 13 points and junior Caroline Lacey added 10.

Benjamin, meanwhile, combined to hit 13 3-pointers in the game and 10 of them in the second half.

The speedy Buccaneers pressed the Tigers after every made basket and forced Holy Trinity to make a number of turnovers. Benjamin also did a good job of spreading out the Tigers on defense to create opportunities to drive to the basket and kick the ball out for an open 3-point shot attempt.

And while the Tigers like to play a fast, up-tempo game, there were times when they appeared to be a little out of control instead of working the ball inside to Garcia and Lacey where they had a size advantage.

“That was our plan, to go inside because they didn’t have anything,” Castillo said. “We got away from it a little bit, maybe didn’t attack the basket enough.”

Holy Trinity was clearly in control at some points of the game. The Tigers just couldn’t sustain it as Benjamin made comeback after comeback and then got really hot in the second half.

The Tigers led 36-26 at the half, but Benjamin hit seven 3-pointers in the third quarter and took a 10-point lead of its own with two minutes left in the period.

However, Holy Trinity ended the third quarter on a 9-0 run and then scored the first eight points of the fourth period to make it a 17-0 stretch that had them in the lead until another three by Benjamin ended the run.

A basket by Sarratt made it 64-57 with 4:31 to play, and with 1:02 remaining, the Tigers still had a four-point lead. But again, the Buccaneers would make a comeback to take a 73-72 advantage.

A free throw by Sarratt with 17.4 seconds remaining tied the score, but on Benjamin’s ensuing possession, Benjamin’s Taylor Blackshear drove straight to the basket and put in for what would be the game-winning shot.

Holy Trinity had the ball with 4.7 seconds remaining as the Tigers tried the push the ball up the court, it went off a player’s hands and out of bounds.

While the loss may sting for now, it shouldn’t take away from what kind of a season the Tigers had. Holy Trinity won the first district title in program history last week and, with no seniors on the roster, are poised for a big year next year.

No wonder players like Garcia; Sarratt; Lacey; Reith; Marissa Cloud; Kiki Norris; Armoni Peppers; Laila Cohen and Isabel Bush can’t wait to get back on the court together.

“It was still a wonderful season, a great season,” Castillo said. “They grew – all of them. They played hard, a lot of great basketball.

“It’s disappointing that this one fell short, but I think next year has got a whole lot of upside.”