ORANGE PARK – The Orange Park Lady Raiders survived a slow start in the opening minutes of their season opener vs. the Keystone Heights Lady Indians en route to a comfortable 63-31 season debut win …
ORANGE PARK – The Orange Park Lady Raiders survived a slow start in the opening minutes of their season opener vs. the Keystone Heights Lady Indians en route to a comfortable 63-31 season debut win in the Raider Dome. Although the overall team is mostly comprised of sophomores and juniors along with one freshman in the starting lineup the team has plenty of varsity basketball experience that head coach Fred Cole hopes will come into play as the season progresses.
Cole scheduled two tough preseason games against larger 7A classification teams in Creekside and Bartram Trail with the goal of preparing his team for a brutal regular season schedule and a strong tournament run in early February.
The Raiders started out a bit sluggish with some early turnovers but found their stride late in the first quarter on the defensive end forcing several turnovers that led to easy baskets.
“I felt like we came out slow but our bench really picked us up defensively especially in the second quarter” said Raider head coach Fred Cole.
The first quarter saw both teams shooting the ball well combining for 32 total points and a 19-13 lead for the Raiders. Orange Park would clamp down defensively in the second quarter led by the energy of senior reserve D.D. Harris on ball defense.
The Raiders would break the game wide open outscoring the Indians 17-2 to take a commanding 36-15 lead including a 30 foot halftime buzzer beater by junior Macie Faucett, who led all scorers with 25 points, to put the crowd on their feet.
The second half saw much of the same as the Raiders held the Indians to just six points but the Indians themselves improved on the defensive end holding Orange Park to just nine points for the quarter.
Unfortunately for Keystone Heights, they were still down big with one quarter left. The teams played a fairly even fourth quarter with Orange Park outscoring Keystone Heights 14-10 en route to a 63-31 win.
Another bright spot for the Raiders was the play of junior point guard Nayeli Williams who had a double double with 11 points and 10 assists. Williams scored off the dribble with drives to the basket and found open teammates for spot up three pointers such as junior running mate Yoly Rosado who finished with 13 points.
“I felt like I had a good night finding my teammates for open shots. My goal was to drive hard into the lane and look for my shot or dishing it out to my teammates” said Williams.
Being a starting high school point guard has its advantages and disadvantages; such as the coach holds you to a higher standard than the average player.
“She is our point guard so she gets coached the hardest. She has been starting since 9th grade and I believe she is coming into her own with her overall game. She ran our offense the way it should be ran with lots of penetration and passing and I know she will continue to improve,” said Cole.
For a team with no seniors in the starting lineup they are surprisingly well experienced with many players that have earned playing time since their freshman year. Williams feels the sky is the limit.
“I think we will play well together and be a good team,” said Williams. “We have some new pieces that we are excited about.”
Wiliams referred to freshman post player Nia Brown and junior transfer Macie Faucett (from Middleburg); who is already providing a major lift on both ends of the floor along with her natural leadership skills.
Cole knows the road to a district title and beyond is difficult so he hopes his team will be well prepared for the challenges they will face.
“I purposely scheduled a difficult preseason and early part of the year with teams like Creekside, Bartram Trial and our sister district with talented teams like Bishop Kenny and Ribault so we can see where we are early on.”