The high school girls basketball season is speeding toward district tournament time and a trio of North Pinellas programs have their eyes on postseason play.
Clearwater, East Lake and Countryside each sit at or near the top of their respective districts.
Clearwater is no stranger to postseason success. The Tornadoes reached the Class 7A region finals the past two years and stand at 17-0 prior to Friday night's home date against Carrollwood Day School. They’ll be the favorite to win District 7A-9 again when the league tournament begins Feb. 4 at Largo, but it’s not a cruise-control situation.
Second-seeded Northeast is Clearwater’s top competitor and the Vikings played the defending champs tough twice this season. The Tornadoes are outscoring their opponents by an average score of 71-32 this season and only three games have been decided by fewer than 10 points. Two of those games came against Northeast, including an early season, 67-65 overtime win in November.
Third-seeded Boca Ciega also represents a potential upset threat in the District 7A-9 field. The Pirates entered this week with a modest 8-6 overall record but were the one other team to keep a game tight with Clearwater and they beat Northeast 44-37 on Jan. 22.
East Lake and Countryside are two other North Pinellas squads heading into their shared District 8A-10 league tournament at the top of the standings. The rivals wrapped up their district schedules with a head-to-head matchup last Friday that Countryside won 51-45. That home victory avenged a 55-45 defeat at East Lake on Dec. 14 and evened up their district record at 9-1.
The identical league records and head-to-head split left the top seed to be determined by a coin toss. East Lake won and will also host the Feb. 5-8 tournament.
The Cougars are back-to-back defending district champs and lost much of their past production to graduation. That hasn’t slowed them down. Countryside entered this week 15-4 overall and winners of six straight since a 52-41 home loss against Clearwater. That streak pushed to seven with 50-41 win at Academy of the Holy Names.
East Lake is in the midst of one of its best seasons in years despite failing to wrap up an unbeaten district schedule last week and losing two in a row for the first time. The Eagles came into this week 16-5 overall and got a pair of tough tests before tournament time. East Lake hosted and beat Wesley Chapel (19-2) Monday night before falling on the road to undefeated Clearwater Tuesday, 65-46.
Postseason play has eluded the Eagles for years, but leading scorer Summer Quigley and the girls have proven they can play with quality competition this year and may be able to make some noise when regional play begins Feb. 14.