Stephenville The Italy Gladiators defeated the two-time Class 2A state champion Ponder Lions Friday night 74-67 in the Class 3A Region II semifinal game to advance to the Region II finals.

The Lions took a quick 5-0 lead before Italy's Jasenio Anderson hit the first of his four three- pointers in the period. Ponder retaliated with an 8-0 run but Italy battled back and was within six when Anderson dropped in a 40-foot shot at the buzzer to cut Ponder's lead to three, 18-15.

Heath Clemons hit two baskets in a row to give the Gladiators a 19-18 lead in the second and Italy kept the lead the entire quarter ending the first half on top 38-34.

The Gladiators (27-7) led until 1:40 left in the third period when Jorden Young made a long three-pointer to tie the game, 50-50. Dalton Brown added two from the charity stripe to put the Lions up 54-53 with :44 left in the period. Brown fouled Anderson who added one to tie the game again. Italy fouled Chris Bean who hit one to give the Lions a 55-54 lead going into the final quarter.

The lead changed hands three times in the first two minutes of the fourth before Larry Mayberry dropped in a layup to put Italy on top 58-57 and the Gladiators never relinquished the lead.

Young brought Ponder within one with a three-pointer but the Gladiator defense stepped up to finish the Lions off.

Anderson led the way with 29 points for Italy while Clemons had 16, Campbell nine, Holden eight, Simmons six, Hopkins four and Mayberry two.

Three players scored in double figures for Ponder. Italy faced Melissa in the Region II final Saturday.