TAMPA — Taylor Emery spent the summer shooting balls in the park with her dad.
They would shoot and shoot, and then the Freedom sophomore would shoot some more.
She was looking to add something to a game that was already good enough, as a freshman, to produce 18 points a game just by taking the ball to the bucket.
She was looking to complete her game.
She was looking to do things like she did Tuesday.
Emery is still the quick, anticipatory clamp-down guard who makes many of her opportunities off her defensive game, but in a fourth meeting against Steinbrenner, it was that summertime shot that sent the Patriots toward another win over the overmatched Warriors.
A pull-up jumper from the free-throw line set things in motion for the struggling and trailing Freedom team, and a pull-up jumper from the free-throw line tied the game a minute before halftime, and pull-up jumper from the free-throw line gave the Patriots the lead for good midway through the third quarter.
All this after a first quarter she’d rather just forget.
“We were down … and I told my teammates I’m not going to lose tonight,” Emery said. “My season is not ending tonight. We turned it up, we turned up the tempo. The whole team, a lot of us can give us that energy to get us going, and once one of us does, then the rest of us go.”
That person Tuesday night was Emery, who hadn’t had particularly good games against the Warriors this season until the district championship. In in the first two games, she scored 22 total points and made just eight of 23 shots.
But she scored 24 in the district final, and 18 Tuesday night in a 60-43 win, including 12 in the second half.
“She knew she played (poorly) in the first quarter,” said Freedom coach Laurie Pacholke, “and that matters to her. How she does matters to her. Taylor knew if she played like that she would be letting her team down. And that was the last thing Taylor wants to happen.”
After her shot broke a 26-26 tie in the third quarter, she picked off a pass at midcourt and drove in for a layup, drawing the foul. At 5-foot-9, she is bigger and stronger than most guards and the contact didn’t phase her, the defender bouncing harmlessly off.
She missed the free throw, but ended up with the rebound and scored again. A few seconds later, she made a perfect pass to Bianca Igwe for another basket.
The Warriors were hanging on for dear life at that point, and Emery merely stomped her foot on their fingers.
“She’s not a player that will get down by any means,” said star center Faith Woodard. “She can go scoreless for one half, and then go for 40 points in the next. She didn’t let anything get to her and came to play. There’s nobody in the county that could keep her down. She’s that kind of player.”
Combined with Woodard, the 6-3 Georgetown-bound glass cleaner who scored 23, Freedom might have the area’s deadliest duo — a dominating inside presence, combined with a dominating slasher who can stick a jump shot from the wings, which makes almost any girls basketball team an instant state contender.
The Patriots, who play Sebastian River on Saturday in the region championship, are more than just a two-person team — see the defensive effort by Whitney Ivey on Tuesday night, for example, on Steinbrenner’s leading scorer — but the strength and versatility of their two stars has Freedom poised to advance to the state semifinals for the first time.
“Emery is a scorer,” said Steinbrenner coach J.R. Allen. “She has that mentality, and it’s nice to have that killer instinct plus the physical gifts along with that, so she’s a tough matchup. Now you throw in a 6-foot-3 potential McDonald’s All-American, I mean, that’s a tough combo. That’s a tough 1-2 punch.”