By: Dustin Kent - NewsHerald.com
For the second time this season, Gulf Coast made Chipola sweat it out to final minutes at the Billy Harrison Field House.
Unfortunately for the Lady Commodores, the final result was all the same, as No. 3 Chipola kept its hold on first place in the Panhandle Conference with a 61-51 win over Gulf Coast on Wednesday night.
Gulf Coast, which dropped to 16-8 overall and 3-6 in the conference, was led by Tianah Alvarado's 19 points, while Chelsey Gibson added 14, and Rochelle Vasquez eight.
The Lady Commodores got off to a fast start, going up 13-4 thanks to 11 combined points between Alvarado and Gibson, and again led by nine at 16-7 after a three from Alvarado.
Chipola got back into it by tightening its defense and pounding the ball inside to the All-American center Akhator, who continually hurt Gulf Coast on the interior en route to 12 first-half points.
Back-to-back buckets by Akhator cut the deficit to 18-17, but Vasquez and Alvarado hit consecutive threes to put Gulf Coast back up seven with 6:57 to half.
The Lady Indians answered with a 12-0 run to surge back in front, with a 3-pointer by Key, a bucket inside by Akhator, a left-handed layup by Gilmore, a three-point play by Akhator, and another basket by Kendra Martin making it 29-24 Chipola.
A basket by Kristina King in the closing seconds of the half cut the margin back to three at the break, but the Lady Commodores were never able to wrestle the lead back in the second half.
A three-point play by Akhator and a transition layup by Gilmore to start the second half put Chipola up 34-26, but the Lady Commodores would not go away.
A three by Alvarado and an offensive rebound and putback by Gibson cut the margin to 38-33, with another three by Vasquez and a long jumper by Alvarado tying the game 42-42 with 10:42 remaining.
Gilmore put Chipola back up for good with a strong driving finish to make it 46-44, with Key scoring on a cut to the basket and then a 3-pointer from the left corner to make it 51-45 with 6:14 remaining.
Akhator scored inside off glass a minute later to put the Lady Indians up eight, but Gulf Coast made one last push, with a steal and layup by Alvarado and a basket by Gibson cutting it to 53-49 with 2:44 left.
It was 55-51 with 1:33 remaining, but Akhator made a free throw, Gibson missed the front end of a 1-and-1, and Key made two free throws to make it 58-51 with 1:02 to play.
The last Gulf Coast gasp came on an air-balled 3-point attempt by Alvarado on its ensuing possession, with Gilmore and Key making 3-of-4 free throws to salt the game away.
It didn't come nearly as easy as so many of the Lady Indians' victories this season, but that was precisely why Chipola coach Greg Franklin said he was so pleased with the outcome.
"I'm proud of the kids. In the last five or 10 minutes, they really gutted it out," he said. "You're on someone else's court and not playing particularly well, but we still found a way to win and they're to be commended for that. It says a lot about your team and how you compete when you do that."
Chipola is back in action Tuesday at home against Tallahassee.