TAMPA — Jim Baxter is new to the Hillsborough County girls basketball scene, so he really didn’t know how big Tuesday’s season opener was for his team.
In practice the Jefferson coach has concentrated on making his team better, but the Dragons’ regular-season debut at Tampa Bay Tech would give an early indication of the county hierarchy.
The Dragons played well and gave a glimpse of what their coach will demand — a fast-paced, physical game, beating TBT 65-50 on its home court.
“Are they in our district?” Baxter asked after the game with a smile. “It helps me to stay just focused on just us. When you know your competition really well, it’s really hard to not move your mind over to them.”
Jefferson, which returned four starters from a team that went to the Class 4A state semifinals last season, broke open the game with a 20-7 run in the second quarter, going into halftime with a 32-16 lead. Junior Shayla Wilson scored seven of her 17 in that quarter.
“We had more heart,” said Jefferson senior guard Laurie’ Beaty, who scored a game-high 19 after signing with Division I Louisiana Lafayette earlier in the day. “We came out here wanting to win the game and that’s what we did.”
Sophomore Erica Young kept the Titans within striking distance, scoring 16 of her team-high 18 in the second half, with the 6-foot-3 center scoring most of them in the paint.
“They are so talented,” Baxter said of TBT. “They exposed our most glaring weakness, which is good, because when we get back in the gym I’ll make more sense to them. Now I can point back to that. It’s all about progress and moving forward.”
Jefferson went to the free-throw line 36 times, converting 27.
“We just didn’t give up,” Wilson said. “We had to have more momentum than them. We knew we had to play harder than them and just not let them back in the game.”
TBT’s Shaunice Hobbs added 13 and Dasia Daniels chipped in 10.
Chantrell Frazier and Shayla Upshaw scored eight each for Jefferson.