By Chuck Ballaro, Sun Correspondent
PUNTA GORDA — When the Charlotte’s girls basketball team practices for its District 7A-10 championship game on Friday, it’s a pretty good bet there will be a lot of shooting from the foul line.
The Tarpons were a hideous 15-for-37 from the line Wednesday night, which allowed rival Port Charlotte to hang in and force overtime before Charlotte finally managed enough shots at the line in the extra session for a wild 64-57 victory.
“We have to get to the free throw line. Doing what we did in districts isn’t going to cut it,” coach Matt Stephenson said. “We did some good things. If we hit some free throws, it’s not this close at all. We’re going to hit it hard.”
While top-seeded Charlotte earned a trip to regionals, the Pirates earned a standing ovation from fans of both teams when they emerged from the locker room after the game, having left everything they had on the court.
Charlotte (16-7), playing without starter Alani Qualls who had the flu, led by as many as 12 in the third quarter thanks to great play from Michelle Bunch (15 points). However, free throw woes allowed the gritty Pirates (10-14) to chip away.
The Tarpons tried to use the stall offense, which almost turned into disaster as turnovers and missed front ends of one-and-ones at the line almost proved fatal.
Charlotte had a chance to put the game away, but a five-second violation on an inbound play gave Port Charlotte life. Janae Dennard was able to get to the line with three seconds remaining and drilled two free throws to tie the game at 51-51 at the end of regulation.
After scoring just three points in the fourth quarter. it was all Charlotte in the extra session. Kayla Lamb took over, scoring nine of her 16 points in the extra four minutes while going 5 of 6 from the line to ice the win.
Port Charlotte’s downfall was foul trouble as two players fouled out and nearly the rest of the team had four. Much longer and coach Kevin Purcell might have had to suit up as the Pirates played only seven players.
Dennard scored all 15 of her points in the second half after foul trouble put her on the bench for much of the first two quarters. Ashlyn Henderson had 13 and Celia Baermann 12 for Port Charlotte.
“We took the top seed to overtime on their court with everyone having four fouls. We left everything on the court and I’m very proud of them,” Purcell said. “Give Charlotte credit. They’re going to the finals.”
Kelyn Moses led all scorers with 24 points for the Tarpons while teammate Taylor Kirkus grabbed 10 rebounds.
CHARLOTTE 64, PORT CHAR. 57 (OT)
Port Charlotte 10 15 16 10 6 — 57: Janae Dennard 15, Ashlyn Henderson 13, Celia Baermann 12, Livingston 8, Dempaire 5, Guerrier 2, Lombardo 2. Totals: 20 (5) 12-19.
Charlotte 10 22 16 3 13 — 64: Kelyn Moses 24, Kayla Lamb 16, Michelle Bunch 15, M. Moses 6, Kirkus 3. Totals: 23 (3) 15-37.