North Port vs Newsome

Above: North Port’s Emani Jefferson took her play to another level in the playoffs — scoring 27 points to lead her team to its first district title in seven years. Left: Jefferson broke the school record with an 18-foot, 10.5-inch leap at the Charlotte Tarpon Invite this year before the coronavirus canceled the season.

NORTH PORT — After a back-and-forth first half, North Port turned on the jets in the second half and pulled away from Newsome, 66-46, to capture the Class 7A-District 8 girls basketball championship Friday night.

Emani Jefferson fueled the second half run for the Bobcats with 17 points in the final two quarters, finishing with 27 points for the game after scoring 30 in North Port’s semifinal win Wednesday. But Jefferson picked up her second foul of the game with 1:55 to go in the first quarter and had to sit out for several minutes as North Port led, 11-10, at the end of the first period.

“We tried to sit Jefferson out for a minute or so at the start of the second quarter to keep her from picking up a third one right away,” North Port coach Dale Huffman said. “But at that point, we started to let the game slip a little bit so we had to put her back in and trust her to get it done. And she did. She didn’t pick up any more until the fourth quarter when she knew she was coming out of the game.”

The Bobcats led 22-19 when Krystal Morales and Yani Hall left the game with injuries in the second quarter, but North Port kept the Wolves at bay for the rest of the half and went into the locker room at halftime with a 27-19 lead.

“We told them before the game started that Newsome would play solid basketball for a while but if you got a little bit of a lead on them and pressured them, they would start to fall apart,” Huffman said.

The senior Jefferson had the whole arsenal on display, sinking two three-pointers along with the usual assortment of steals and layups.

“The girl has got the talent to shoot from outside,” Huffman said. “But she’s so fast she just goes to the basket and ignores the outside game. She showed the whole package tonight and had the crowd oohing and aahing. She was doing some nice stuff out there.”

Morales and Hall both returned to the game as Jefferson scored 10 points in the third period, and Sade Romain’s two 3-pointers opened up a 49-31 lead for North Port entering the final quarter. A 10-2 run at the start of the period gave the Bobcats a 59-33 lead with 4:09 to play and it was all over except for the postgame celebration as North Port captured its first district title since 2013.

“Three straight runner-ups, we finally get a district championship,” Huffman said. “That was one of our preseason goals: district championship, a 20-win season and hopefully a final four. Being a district champion, we get a home game next Thursday in the regionals.”

Romain had 10 points for North Port (20-6) and Hall added 7. Kayla Ludwig had 13 points for the Wolves (16-10).

Said Jefferson: “We had to pick up the intensity in the second half and played basketball. We really wanted to cut down the net. It feels fantastic, I love it.”

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