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Tornadoes girls basketball whirls into Final Four

Booker High beat Port Charlotte to earn a trip to Lakeland.

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It is the little things that matter now.

Booker High Coach Ty Brant said it repeatedly during the team's Feb. 22 practice. When a handful of players failed to take a free throw segment of practice seriously, instead running over to someone with an armload of Gatorade, Bryant brought things to a halt. 

"We're shooting 63% from the free-throw line," Bryant said to them. To Bryant, that is not nearly good enough. He made the team run to make up for its lackadaisical attitude — then, after a lengthy post-practice talk, made sure everyone sank free throws before they could leave. That time, no one shirked the responsibility.. 

The Tornadoes (20-7) have been more than good enough in other areas to overcome their free-throw woes. Booker won 74-50 over Port Charlotte High 20-9) on Friday, securing a spot in the Class 4A Final Four. The Tornadoes will play Lake Highland Prep (23-4) at 10 a.m. Thursday at Lakeland's RP Funding Center. If the Tornadoes win that game, they will play either Bishop Kenny (25-4) or Calvary Christian Academy (22-6) in the state championship game. 

Thinking too much about that possibility is not recommended by Bryant, who urged his team to stay in the moment and enjoy the experience of playing in the Final Four at all. Booker has a large task in front of it. Lake Highland Prep is ranked the No. 1 team in Class 4A and the No. 3 team in Florida by MaxPreps. The Highlanders are led by senior forward Nyla Harris, a Louisville signee and the 35th-best player in her class according to ESPN. Junior guard Eleecia Carter is an uncommitted three-star prospect. 

Chariot Johnson leads the Tornadoes with 9.2 points per game.
Chariot Johnson leads the Tornadoes with 9.2 points per game.

In order to stop Harris, Carter and the other Highlanders, Booker knows it will have to bring its A-game — and then some. 

"We are going to play hard and fight for what we deserve," junior Chariot Johnson said. "We're not going to make any excuses. It's not going to be, 'Oh, we're a small team. Oh, we're a young team.' We're going to leave it all on the court and see what happens."

Johnson leads the Tornadoes with 9.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Booker does not have an elite scorer but the team can go 12 players deep with everyone contributing something, whether that is senior Jaydn Lattimore's tight defense or senior Ty'anna Ash's heady passes. Lake Highland Prep rarely plays more than seven players. If Booker can get the Highlanders in early foul trouble, it may be the opening they need to have a shot. 

Tickets for Thursday's game and a potential state championship game can be purchased via the RP Funding Center box office for $10 in advance or $13 the day of the game. Parking at the arena is $10. The semifinal game will also be live streamed via the NFHS Network; the state championship game will be live streamed via Spectrum. Visit for more information. 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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