NORTH PORT — Emani Jefferson scored 25 points, and the North Port High School girls basketball team overcame a furious late rally to hold off Haines City, 71-63, in the first round of the Region 7A-2 playoffs on Thursday at the Cage.
North Port, the No. 4 seed, will travel to top-seeded Plant in the regional semifinals Tuesday. Plant blew out Ridge Community, 71-22.
The Bobcats saw a 17-point fourth quarter lead dwindle down to five in the final minute before Jefferson and Yani Hall were able to seal the win at the free throw line.
“We’re really good at making games interesting. They put the fear of God into us because we weren’t being smart,” North Port coach Dale Huffman said. “They got hot and started making shots so we had to make adjustments.”
North Port (21-6) got off to a hot start, scoring the first seven points of the game before the Hornets responded with a 10-0 run late in the first quarter to lead briefly before the Bobcats countered with another 7-0 run to lead 14-10 after one quarter.
North Port extended its lead as junior guard Sade Romain got hot from behind the arc and Haines City went cold from the line (4 of 14 in the first half) to take a 32-20 lead at halftime and led by 17 after three quarters, 54-37.
The Hornets, who dressed only eight players and were without suspended center Jada Garbutt, started hitting the shots they missed in the first half. DeNyish Reynolds, Layla Acosta and Jasmine Edwards, who led all scorers with 26 points, 20 of them after halftime, all got hot as they chipped into North Port’s lead, coming to within 68-63 after Edwards hit a three with 35 seconds left.
Jefferson took the game on her shoulders, making some big shots down the stretch, including a big free throw and a key rebound off a miss to help the Bobcats hold on in the final minute.
“We had trouble finishing and kept turning over the ball. I had to create plays,” Jefferson said. “The team relied on me to score and I was able to.”
Romain scored 17 for North Port, including five from behind the arc, while sophomore Yani Hall added 11. Reynolds had 16 and Acosta 14 for the Hornets (15-10), which will only be graduating one senior.