Lady Knights back in hunt to repeat titles

By Randy Lefko Sports Editor
Posted 1/19/22

OAKLEAF - With two decisive wins in their first two games since a season halt on December 30, the Oakleaf High girls basketball team got back on the hardwood and executed wins of 46-35 over San Jose …

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Lady Knights back in hunt to repeat titles

Posted

OAKLEAF - With two decisive wins in their first two games since a season halt on December 30, the Oakleaf High girls basketball team got back on the hardwood and executed wins of 46-35 over San Jose Prep (a 13-5 Independent basketball program) on Saturday and 57-37 over Ribault (9-7, a past state and national girls basketball champion and Class 4A semifinalist last year) on Monday at the Bishop Snyder MLK Jr., Holiday Clash.

“We had a week and some more of no practices, no games and total quarantine,” said Fred Cole, Oakleaf head coach. “Monday was our first practice; Saturday was our first game back and the team understands that the adversity is part of the season. We get five games before the district tournament and we start even there.”

Oakleaf gets a formidable opponent locally on Tues., Jan. 18 with the Orange Park High Lady Raiders (18-5) hosting the Knights in the RaiderDome. Raider coach Michael Nesmith has rattled off five straight wins on his formidable schedule with wins against Bartram Trail and Leon coming after a thriller loss, 56-53, to unbeaten St. Augustine High (18-0) on January 6. Sophomore guard Eris Lester is Nesmith’s top scorer with the last six games at 16, 18, 24, 20, 27 and 16 points.

St. Johns Country Day School’s girls team, led by Taliah Scott, sit at 14-3 with dates against 6A-Fletcher and 5A-Ridgeview during the week and a Saturday match with IND-San Jose Prep at the University of North Florida in a MLK Jr., Showcase Tournament at 1:30 p.m. The Lady Spartans beat Buchholz 52-39 on Monday at Hawthorne High in a MLK Jr. Tournament there with Scott top scorer with 30 points. Scott hit for 33 on Sat., Jan. 15 in a 61-49 win over University Christian, a 2A region finalist in 2020 losing to eventual runnerup Florida A & M.

In their game against Ribault, Oakleaf, now 7-9 after a tumultuous season start that Cole said surprised him, but was not enough to panic over, looked energetic and enthusiastic, yet had trouble in some instances landing layups and three point jumpers with guard Fantasia James, known for her high-flying style, getting stymied with missed layups on top of getting hammered with fouls on the way in.

“Fantasia and Kaylah (Kaylah Turner) are our top returners from last year and I see a focus from them to keep the team in the right frame of mind to challenge for a second district and region title,” said Cole. “We are now the second seed with Mandarin up top, but the district tournament makes every on the same playing field. We have time to get out basketball legs back.”

Thought Cole’s lineup against Ribault was a tad smaller than the Lady Trojans formidable front, point guard Kaylah Turner, who recently surpassed 1,000 career points as a Lady Knight, was the arrow at the top of a Knights’ defense that showed off its impressive tenacity to create turnovers and breakaways. Canning the layups though proved less than fruitful.

“I don’t let it bother me or the team that we seemed a little off today,” said James, who could hit the 1,000 point mark by season end. “I won’t slow down though.”

Prior to the Christmas holiday break, Cole had the Oakleaf team schedule stacked up with major tournament visits against top-ranked teams with the losses piling up quickly to the likes of teams from around the southeast United States including Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky.

“We went to a tournament at Naples with near 100 teams for the holiday week, but we had to miss a tournament in Atlanta because the entire team got sick,” said Cole. “I told them after we got back that even though we got beat down in those tournaments, we didn’t do all that to just come back and finish the season.”

Around the county, Fleming Island fell to 13-5 with a Monday loss, 55-46, to San Jose Prep (13-5). The Golden Eagles had a three game win streak working with guard Avery Cannon the hot hand with games of 31, 16, 21, 22 and 21 for the last five games with 20 three-pointers in those games. Fleming Island will get tested on Sat., Jan. 22 with a game against 14-4 Tampa Plant.

Keystone Heights got two bumps on their fantastic season with Ridgeview (13-7) exacting a 43-29 loss in the Keystone Heights gym in the third match between the two school and Ponte Vedra (12-7) winning a 67-36 match on January 14.

The Lady Panthers have a five game win streak going on since returning in January with a loss to Ponte Vedra on December 23 their last setback. The Panthers will host the St. Johns Country Day School Lady Spartans on Thursday. Nia Blocton has scored 26 23, 13 10 and 18 to lead the Lady Panthers in the last six games with Paetyn Miller keeping pace with games of 12, 13, 17, 11, 11 and 15.

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