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TAMPA — Freedom coach Laurie Pacholke called it a statement game.
It was more of an exclamation.
In a matchup between two of the three top playoff contenders in District 7A-9, Pacholke’s Patriots proved definitively that Wiregrass Ranch is not one of their peers and rolled to a lopsided 65-18 victory Tuesday night.
“I don’t think people understand how much better we are than we were last year,” Pacholke said. “This has been our toughest game so far.”
Sophomore guard Taylor Emery scored 29 in fewer than three quarters to lead the Patriots (7-0, 2-0) to another rout in a season in which they’ve won by an average of 46 points.
Wiregrass Ranch (8-4) was supposed to give the Patriots their stiffest test of the season, the first of three consecutive tough games this week that concludes with a game against Steinbrenner on Thursday.
Steinbrenner coach J.R. Allen, who helms the reigning district champion and currently undefeated Warriors, came to Freedom High’s gym to scout both teams Tuesday. Wiregrass Ranch had pushed the Warriors in a four-point loss last week.
Within minutes, the Patriots gave Allen and his Warriors plenty to think about over the next couple of days.
Whitney Ivey’s jumper early in the first quarter sparked a 34-6 run that broke open the game and pushed Freedom to a 45-13 halftime lead.
The Patriots even managed to withstand early foul trouble by leading scorer Faith Woodard, who drew her second whistle late in the first quarter and sat out much of the half.
Woodard, who averages more than 24 points, scored only nine in limited action.
“That’s just our depth,” Pacholke said. “We just keep coming at teams in waves and hope to wear them down.”
In addition to the Patriots’ withering pressure and athleticism, the Bulls were also winded by the humidity in Freedom’s gym. Pacholke said the power went out at the school earlier in the day and the air conditioning wasn’t working for much of the evening.
Wiregrass Ranch coach John Gant admitted the stuffy atmosphere got to his team.
“The heat did affect our big girls,” he said. “But tonight, I was proud that we didn’t quit and showed class and heart until the end.”
Next up for Freedom are Newsome (7-1) this evening and Steinbrenner (10-0) on Thursday.
Not that Emery and the Patriots are worried.
“We made a statement tonight,” Emery said. “We’re one of the teams to beat.”