By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
NORTH PORT — It was the Cellexia Foster show at North Port High School Tuesday night and the lady Bobcats had front row tickets.
Tickets that, by the end of the night, they wish they could have given away.
Foster scored a game-high 38 points to go along with seven steals to lead Booker to a 59-44 road win over North Port. The Tornadoes, who were a Class 6A regional finalist last season, also got a double-double from Arie Bass (11 points, 13 rebounds) and were menacing defensively, coming away with 17 steals.
Emani Jefferson led North Port with 14 points and Aryana Hough added 13 more, but the Bobcats’ offense struggled throughout the night and trailed from the midway point of the first quarter on. Turnovers, which have been a problem through the team’s first two games, reared their head again.
“I thought we did not play well. We did not play like a team and we did not execute our offense,” North Port coach Dale Huffman said. “The whole thing we harped on the last two games, and even in our win, was the turnovers. We had 30-plus turnovers against South Fort Myers but we were lucky enough to pull it off.
“We’re not going to come out and have 30-plus turnovers and win a game. You might get lucky every once in awhile like that but you’re not going to against a team like Booker. If you have 30-plus turnovers you’re lucky to beat the Little Sisters of the Poor.”
Foster really was a one-woman show. Booker only had six assists on 21 field goals but it didn’t matter because not a single Bobcat could stop Foster when she had the ball in her hands.
She made layups, got to the free throw line, drained step back jumpers and even hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the first quarter.
“I felt like my offense was there when I stepped on the court, but honestly, my defense helps my offense,” Foster said.
Foster’s 3-pointer to end the first quarter put Booker up 20-10 and it told another tale of the game. It came right after a Booker miss but Alexis Booker grabbed the offensive rebound and dished the ball back out to Foster, who was able to nail the shot.
The Tornadoes (3-1) continually won the battle for loose balls and outrebounded the Bobcats (1-2) 44-25 thanks to Bass and Dami Anderson, who also had 13 boards. If it wasn’t for North Port center Alexis Francavilla, who had eight rebounds to go with eight points, that margin would’ve been even worse.
“If Francavilla doesn’t get the ball, nobody else goes after it,” Huffman said. “There’s no boxing out going on. It was another emphasis going into the game. On the board all it said was ‘box out and rebound’ and it was one and done today. For them it was four or five shots.”
Foster scored 20 of her 38 in the first half and helped Booker build a 28-15 lead in the second quarter. North Port answered with a 9-3 run to close the first half, thanks to two free throws and a bucket from Jefferson and another bucket from Francavilla, to pull to within seven at the break.
Francavilla scored again to open the second half and the Bobcats suddenly found themselves down just 31-26. But North Port could never get closer the rest of the night either due to turnovers, missed rebounds or simply missed shots.
The Bobcats did cut the lead to 45-39 to begin the fourth quarter on a layup by Jefferson. They then immediately forced a turnover for a fast break opportunity but missed a wide-open layup.
Instead of cutting the deficit to four points, Booker pushed its lead to 11 with a 7-2 run.
“There was a span there where we got them rattled a little bit and they started throwing the ball around the gym and then we quit hustling,” Huffman said. “We started backing off six to eight feet. We had a ball where we had a chance to cut the game to four and we threw the ball right out of bounds over the basket and we went from a possible four down to 11 down in 40 seconds. That’s the kind of turnaround that can’t happen.”
BOOKER 59, NORTH PORT 44
Booker 20 11 14 14 — 59
North Port 10 14 13 7 — 44
Booker (59): Cellexia Foster 38, Arie Bass 11, Merced 5, Booker 2, C. Foster 2, Anderson 1. Totals: 21 (2) 15-27-59.
North Port (44): Emani Jefferson 14, Aryana Hough 13, Francavilla 8, Nazario 7, Gonzalez 2. Totals: 15 (0) 14-25-44.