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NORTH PORT – If North Port doesn’t out-shoot you, they’ll out-smart you.

On a night where the Bobcats (7-7) shot 4-for-20 from beyond the arc and their usual sharpshooter Eric Baker finished 1-for-10, North Port used a smart yet aggressive approach to beat a bigger and maybe better Bishop Verot (8-6) team 44-42.

Neither team led by more than eight in the entire game, with the margin reaching no greater than four points in the final four minutes. Despite the nature of the contest and important possessions down the stretch, North Port head coach Ryan Power never used a timeout. Instead, he relied on his team of well-coached players to execute correctly.

“We have a lot of seniors on this team and I’ve got confidence in them late in games to make the right decisions and to be listening,” Power said. “They were really into it. In the first half, they went on a run and I wanted our guys to learn how to play through the run without me bailing them out with a timeout.”

Power used the longest timeout of the night to make the most important adjustments – halftime. Trailing 25-20, the Bobcats came out focused in the third quarter. On a night where points were hard to come by, North Port went on a 10-0 run in just two minutes of play. Eric Baker and Nick Passamonte drilled back-to-back threes to give the Bobcats a 28-27 lead before Mitch Tosi delivered two consecutive three-point plays to extend the lead to 34-27.

“The biggest thing we tried to do was pressure their point guard,” Power said about their halftime adjustments. “We felt he was the catalyst that makes their team go. We played straight denial on him. I thought it made other guys force it into the post, which resulted in some turnovers.”

North Port used those turnovers to limit Bishop Verot to just 17 points in the second half. They managed to neutralize Bishop Verot’s toughest player to guard - 6-foot-11 center Israel Torres. The Bobcats deployed Tosi, a 6-foot-2 inch center, and a bunch of guards on Torres, pushing him off the block and repeatedly batting away entry passes.

“We wanted to mix it up to keep them guessing,” said Power. “When we stayed in man a little too long, they got comfortable and started executing extremely well. Once we started switching defenses, it cut them off and gave our guys a little confidence.”

Despite missing more than seven minutes of action due to foul trouble, Tosi was relentless down low, working around Torres to finish with a game-high 18 points.

“Mitch is going to be the hardest worker in any game,” Power said. “He’s going to be out-sized, but he’s going to out-work whoever he’s playing. He gives us interior scoring and gives us offensive and defensive rebounds.”

Senior forward Josh Hogue returned to the Bobcats’ lineup after missing three games with an ankle injury, scoring four points while exceeding Power’s expectation that he would only be able to give his team 5-10 minutes of game action.

“He was calm with the ball offensively which allowed us to get in more of a rhythm,” said Power. “I felt we shot too many threes and were rushing shots from the perimeter which allowed them to get into transition. When Josh got in there he did a great job of handling it, slowing things down and attacking the basket.”

Even though the Bobcats’ scoring slowed down in the fourth quarter, they gutted it out on the defensive end and didn’t make any critical mistakes. North Port also took advantage of their opportunities at the free throw line.

Baker made two free throws with 15 seconds left to extend the lead to four. In a 44-42 game with six seconds left, the Bobcats had two fouls to give, and wisely used one to stop the Bishop Verot momentum on the final possession. With just two seconds remaining and two thirds of the court to go, Baker blocked a potential game-winning half-court shot as the buzzer sounded to seal the win.

NORTH PORT 44, BISHOP VEROT 42

Bishop Verot 17 8 7 10 – 42

North Port 11 9 15 9 – 44

Bishop Verot: Israel Torres 12, Andrew Shephard 12, Lucas Tejera 8, Denzel Redd 2, Kelle Grau 2, Andreas Mantz 2, Sam Archambault 2, Blake Jozsa 2. Totals: 17 (1) 7-8 42.

North Port: Tosi 18, Passamonte 11, Eric Baker 7, Hogue 5, Albert Iribarren 2, Jeremy Morales 1. Totals: 15 (4) 10-20 44.

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