TAMPA — Taylor Emery and coach Laurie Pacholke had talked about it just the day before. Emery, who scored more than 20 points per game last season for Freedom as a sophomore, is now the lone returning starter. With that comes a certain expectation to perform.
"There's a lot riding on her shoulders, and she knows it," Pacholke said. "There's no plays off when you're as talented as she is."
On Wednesday night, Emery proved she can handle the responsibility just fine when she put up a career-high 41 points in Freedom's 70-59 win against Tampa Bay Tech.
After the game, a glowing Emery was surprised to learn she scored as many points as she did. She knew from the start, however, that it was going to be a good night.
"I was feeling the whole back door, and Bianca (Igwe) was seeing me every single time," Emery said. "It was just great."
Emery was on fire all night, but in the first half, the Patriots (9-2, 1-2) had a hard time putting out the Titans' flame. The game remained close for the first quarter, but turnovers and a series of missed shots late in the second gave Tampa Bay Tech a 36-29 lead at the half.
Emery said all her team needed to do at the break was refocus. With the help of eight quick points in the third quarter from the junior guard herself, it appeared that's exactly what the Patriots had done. Freedom worked its way back into the game and took a one-point lead into the fourth quarter.
Tampa Bay Tech (10-2, 3-1) had four big fourth-quarter turnovers, including one in which Emery took the ball, scored a basket and was fouled on the way up. She punched the air in celebration before delivering the three-point play with a made free throw.
A technical foul called on Tampa Bay Tech coach Reggie Lawrence only helped the Patriots extend their lead. Shakela Smith led the Titans with 16 points, and Brianna Thomas added 13.
In addition to Emery's big night, Pacholke was proud of the way her team rebounded from its loss to Sickles last week. They passed the ball and got each other involved, she said. Igwe, who assisted on many of Emery's baskets, had 15 points of her own.
"It's a growth every time we step foot on the court," Pacholke said. "I told them just to get back to doing what we're good at."
And for the Patriots that meant, in part, putting the ball in Emery's hands.