NORTH PORT—Heading into the fourth quarter of Friday night’s matchup against top-ranked Bradenton Christian, trailing 44-31, it looked like North Port High School would head into the Christmas break with another tough loss.
However, sparked by an 11-0 run to start the fourth, North Port found itself down just two points with 12.3 seconds left, 54-52. When out of nowhere, on a free throw attempt by Bradenton Christian’s Sophie Giordina, senior Bailey Sikkema snuck through the Bobcat defenders, grabbed the rebound and put it back for two points, ending the Bobcats’ comeback bid, 56-52.
“We had them on the ropes and we let them go,” North Port coach Dale Huffman said. “We just don’t do what we’re told. We told them to box out, back into the girl and we didn’t do it.”
North Port began the game with a 13-11 lead after the first quarter, but miscues and misfires led to just five points in the second quarter, while the Panthers pushed the break and the Bobcat defense to the brink, scoring 18 points in the quarter to take a 29-18 lead at the half.
“We had that team on the run, they went into the press and we started throwing the ball all over the place,” Huffman said. “That’s something we have to fix.”
In the first half alone, North Port turned the ball over 24 times, which has been a problem on a nightly basis for Huffman’s squad.
“One of our problems is that we average about 30 turnovers a game,” Huffman said. “We do that kind of stuff all the time. We come down the court and throw the ball to a girl that’s not looking at it. It’s something we have to fix.”
The Bobcats fixed the turnover problems in the first half by committing just four in the third quarter, but it came back to bite them down the stretch in the fourth as they committed six turnovers, including one with just over 20 seconds left with the game tied at 51.
Sikkema led all scorers with 23 points and eight rebounds, while Jessica Jackson finished with 12 points and eight rebounds.
Aryana Hough was the high-scorer for North Port with 15 points, but had a tough night from the floor, finishing just 6-of-19 from the field and 3-of-10 from the free-throw line.
Bobcat center Lexi Francavilla finished with a double-double–14 points and 17 rebounds — nine of them on the offensive glass.
“We played a good, hard fourth quarter,” Huffman said. “The thing is, if we played all four quarters like that, we would have won by 30.”
North Port (5-5) will take a few days off to regroup and come back for a tough test in the Southeast Christmas Tournament at Southeast High School in Bradenton on Dec. 27.
“After the sickness we had a few weeks ago, my goal was to be 5-5 at Christmas and we are 5-5 at Christmas.” Huffman said. “That’s a game we should’ve won, and I hate giving away games we should’ve won.”