PALATKA – Behind strong inside play from junior center Sha’mia Capers, the Orange Park High Lady Raiders basketball team took care of previous seventh ranked in 4A University Christian (9-2), …
PALATKA – Behind strong inside play from junior center Sha’mia Capers, the Orange Park High Lady Raiders basketball team took care of previous seventh ranked in 4A University Christian (9-2), then came back a day later and took out tournament host Palatka 55-31 for the title at the seventh annual Jarvis Williams Invitational held Dec. 27-29.
“I like that the girls responded strong in this three-day tournament format,” said Orange Park coach Fred Coles, who entered the tournament 13th ranked in 6A. “On the third day, the measure of wills comes to the front and the team that can keep their composure and play through fatigue will win. We did that.”
Coles, with his first major title since taking the Orange Park job in 2016, got a tournament Most Valuable Player trophy from Capers who took on size-advantaged opponents against both University Christian and Palatka, plus All-Tournament trophies for guards Macie Faucett and Nayeli Williams.
“The University Christian game had a playoff feel to it with both teams at 9-1 for the season,” said Coles. “I was glad the girls kept the pace a day later against Palatka. Following the University Christian game with a strong effort against Palatka gives us confidence for a strong season finish.”
Also in the tournament, Fleming Island finished third with guard Emma Richards earning All-Tournament honors. Fleming Island, with Richards hitting for a team-high 22 points with three three-pointers, lost 69-65 in overtime to University Christian in round two, then defeated Covenant Prep in the third place game. University Christian was scheduled to play Fleming Island for third, but the team never showed for the game. Covenant Prep was in Palatka to watch their boys team play and agreed to play. Fleming Island won 51-32.
Against Palatka (2-6), the fast-paced Raider defense came up with four straight steals to open the game before jetting to a 15-6 lead. Capers ended the first stanza with an offensive rebound to a layup and a steal to a breakaway layup.
Orange Park continued the defensive assault to go a point better in the second with a 16-4 stanza behind Williams blasting a three as the quarter began and sophomore Sydney Rowland hitting more three pointers to push the lead to 31-10 at the break before cruising to the title.
Against University Christian, with Capers battling with 6’-1” Nigeria Harkless under the basket, Orange Park stayed even for the first period, 15-14, then opened the jets in the second, 25-15, to take a halftime lead of 39-29.
“I felt like I wasn’t scared of them because they were so much bigger,” said Capers. “I just boxed out and kept at it.”
In the second quarter, Orange Park withstood a handful of early missed jumpers before igniting behind a nifty Capers steal to Rowland to a layup from Faucett and a 24-22 lead before Nia Brown hit a set of free throws to push that lead to 26-22.
Yoly Rosado stepped up with a three pointer and Capers got another layup in the paint as Orange Park pushed to a 31-22 lead before University Christian could respond.
“I was not in a good groove in the beginning and I knew the team needed me to hit baskets,” said Rosado. “We all work for each other for the team to succeed.”
Faucett and Rosado added one more three a piece to end the half at 39-30.
Two buckets from Capers in the third kept University Christian at bay, but the gap got to 43-42 with two minutes left in the stanza.
“Sha’mia played with no fear in both games,” said Jones. “Even though she was not our tallest player, I told her she drew the assignment. I told her to just play physical out there.”
In the fourth, Capers got a key offensive rebound to a layup with Brown feeding Rosado for a layup to give Coles enough breathing room to finish the game as the Raiders maintained a four point gap to the final buzzer.
The final dagger for Orange Park was a three pointer from Rosado followed by two steals to layups with Capers ending the game with a layup at 68-58.
“I told the girls that this tournament is high-level basketball,” said Jones. “Yoly and Macie both were sluggish in the early part of the second half, but I told them to get their mind straight; body language, because we were going to need them to step up to end the game. And, they both did. They are both competitors.”
Four Orange Park players finished with double figures with Capers at 16, Rosado at 15 and both Willams and Faucett at 14. Brown added nine.
Orange Parks returns to regular season play with an away game at Ribault (9-4) on January 7, at Keystone Heights (10-5) on January 10 and at Baker County (4-7) on January 12.
In game one, Orange Park beat Hamilton County, 59-37, with Faucett leading with 13 points and Capers adding 11. Nia Brown had four blocked shots with five rebounds.