By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
NORTH PORT — The first three quarters were an offensive struggle for North Port’s girls basketball team on Saturday afternoon against Venice.
The fourth quarter was a different story for the Bobcats.
North Port High School used a run in the stretch to break open a tie game and claim a 46-40 victory. From a 33-33 tie with just more than three minutes to play, the Bobcats scored 10 of the game’s next 13 points to take control in the Class 8A game.
Aryana Hough led the Bobcats (2-3) with 16 points while Alexis Francavilla recorded a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds to go along with three blocks. Freshman guard Emani Jefferson also reached double digits with 10 points. The trio accounted for 15 of North Port’s 18 points in the game’s final quarter.
Francavilla had left the game with 4:18 remaining in the second quarter with a head injury, but returned to begin the second half, where she scored nine of her 11 points.
“We decided that we were going to get the ball to Franc,” North Port coach Dale Huffman said. “We put our other forward Jenna (Gonzalez) in and said throw the ball to Jenna’s side, Jenna screens for Franc so Franc can get the ball and we tried to get the ball inside … that’s what we should be doing anyway. She’s 6-foot tall and she jumps like a kangaroo.”
Hough put North Port in front for good with a steal and layup for a 35-33 lead with 3:17 to go. Talee Howard, who led Venice (1-6) with 16 points, cut the lead to one with a foul shot, but the Indians never pulled closer as the Bobcats ran away, building the lead to 46-36 in the final minute.
“I thought we played hard. I wasn’t upset with the effort,” said Venice coach Jim Davis, whose team dropped its fifth straight. “I think we gave up some offensive rebounds in the last three minutes of the game that really sealed the deal for North Port. I think that’s what it came down to.”
North Port trailed 9-6 when Francavilla left in the second quarter and Venice doubled that lead on a free throw by Anna Featherston and a jumper by Alexa Hann. But Hough got the Bobcats back in it with nine of her 16 points in the quarter, including one of her two 3-pointers to tie the game at 17 and a layup to give her team its first lead with 14 seconds left in the half.
In addition to her 16 points, Hough also grabbed down seven rebounds and came away with four steals.
“Aryana is a hustler. The girl saves us on so much. The stuff she does is not ‘statable’ for the people in the stands,” said Huffman, whose team had lost two in a row. “We see it. We see the deflections and we see all that stuff when we review the tapes, but she’s a workhorse.
“She’s the unsung hero right now on this team. Francavilla gets the pub because she’s putting up the points and pulling down the rebounds and Emani because she’s the jetty freshman. but Aryana is the workhorse. I can’t say enough about her.”
Miranda Hoffer, who finished with 12 points for Venice, made a layup at the first half buzzer to tie the game at 19-19 at halftime. Kirsten Dooling also beat the buzzer at the end of the third quarter to give the Indians a 31-28 lead entering the fourth.
NORTH PORT 46, VENICE 40
Venice 7 12 12 9 — 40
North Port 6 13 9 18 — 46
Venice (40): Talee Howard 16, Miranda Hoffer 12, Dooling 6, Hann 5, Featherston 1. Totals: 15 (1) 9-13.
North Port (46): Aryana Hough 16, Alexis Francavilla 11, Emani Jefferson 10, Blakeney 4, Nazario 4, Gonzalez 1. Totals: 15 (2) 14-32.