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LUTZ — Taylor Emery missed her first four shots. She also missed four of her last five. In between, she was winded and sore and saddled with foul trouble much of the night.
Her return from a concussion suffered nearly two weeks ago was going predictably poorly.
But Freedom’s sophomore star broke out of her slump long enough Friday night to clinch a win in a place where Steinbrenner usually doesn’t lose.
Emery finished with a season-low 10 points, including four in overtime, to lift the Patriots to a 52-48 victory over Steinbrenner in one of the bay area’s most anticipated games of the season.
“I was expecting for that to happen,” Emery said of her uneven performance. “I didn’t think it would be easy. Especially against (Steinbrenner). They’re a great team.”
Picking up the slack for her normally explosive teammate, Faith Woodard scored a game-high 18 points and made big plays on both ends of the floor to keep Freedom (19-2, 8-0) afloat when the Warriors threatened to run away with a victory.
Steinbrenner (18-5, 6-2) seized upon its home-court advantage, nearly pulling off an upset of the county’s top-ranked team in a gym where it had won 21 of its past 22 over the past three years. The Warriors hadn’t lost at home since Jan. 17, 2010, against Spoto.
This game unfolded very differently from their previous matchup a month ago, which Freedom controlled throughout and won by seven points on its home floor.
The Warriors slowed down Freedom’s usually frenetic pace and got 31 points from its imposing frontline of Bailey Hooker, Lauren Shedd and Rachel Briere — all of them 5-11 or taller.
Their lead swelled to 44-38 on Shedd’s free throw with 3:04 left in the game.
Freedom responded with an 8-0 run over the next two minutes, punctuated by guard Whitney Ivey’s go-ahead layup with 1:10 left in the game.
During that game-turning stretch, Woodard also stole a pass near the key and went in for a breakaway basket that cut Steinbrenner’s lead to two.
“I loved our resilience,” Patriots coach Laurie Pacholke said. “This is the sort of game where you see what your team is made of.”
Clinging to a 46-44 lead with five seconds left, Freedom allowed Shedd to score on a shot right under the basket to send the game into overtime.
From there, Emery — who averages 21.4 points per game — showed enough flashes of her usual self to finish off Steinbrenner.
She scored on a jumper 21 seconds into overtime and followed with a pair of free throws with 57.9 seconds to play that gave the Patriots a 50-48 lead they never relinquished.
“For us, it’s going to be about whether we mentally can deal with this happening twice now,” Steinbrenner coach J.R. Allen said.
“That was a win for us. I’ve got to let them know that they can be beat.”
Freedom earned the top seed in the Class 7A, District 9 tournament, which they will host in a couple of weeks. Steinbrenner finishes second in the district.