HAWTHORNE - Oakleaf High’s Fantasia James hit her first three pointer with just eight seconds off the clock in what looked to be another Lady Knight’s high-flying blowout of a state contender, …
HAWTHORNE - Oakleaf High’s Fantasia James hit her first three pointer with just eight seconds off the clock in what looked to be another Lady Knight’s high-flying blowout of a state contender, but the Class 1A defending champion Hawthorne High Hornets did not blink from the early setback, but instead set about their own retaliatory response with 10 straight points; two past the three point stripe, on the way to thrilling 51-47 Oakleaf loss Monday afternoon at the Martin Luther King Day Shootout at Hawthorne High School.
“Senior Geniyah Durante stepped up again for us like she did on Thursday against Nease and made big plays at the end,” said Oakleaf coach Fred Cole, now 15-1 while Hawthorne improved to 12-3. “That was a good team. I don’t believe the whole 1A, 5A, 7A thing because there are only five people on the court. That’s why they are state champions.”
Notably off their game after holding off 7A Nease just four days ago, Cole, who was without Kaylah Turner, one of his “Three Amigas” while Hawthorne’s two point guards; Jayla Williams and Kentavia Hagins showed off their three point shooting acumen, was mixing and matching defensive schemes to slow the momentum down.
“She will return to the team soon,” said Cole. “No excuse, her not out there makes a difference.”
With his now two of “Three Amigas”; James and top scorer Taliah Scott, seemingly befuddled by the turned tables, it would a strategic shift in defense on Hawthorne’s center post player; 6’-3” University of North Carolina-Charlotte commit Mya McGraw that would determine the Lady Knights second half woes and goes.
“I think we came out kind of sluggish and then woke up at halftime,” said Cole. “We outplayed them in the second half, but the fact is, they outplayed us in the first half and we had a big hill to climb.”
In the first half, with Williams and Hagins rattling the Knights cage with their own brand of bombs away shooting and McGraw and 6’-1” teammate Saideriel Oliver sweeping the boards, Oakleaf was reduced to an unlikely 35-14 gap at the half.
With a second half defense intent on slowing down the Hornet roll, Cole employed a collapsible cage on McGraw with Scott and James tasked to preventing the incoming overhead pass under the backboard and senior guard Geniyah Durante pestering Williams from the halfcourt stripe.
With James misfiring on her first pass from the start, Durante regrouped her team and hit a driving layup that Hagins responded to with another three-pointer.
Shutting down the Hawthorne lanes, Durante on top; Scott and James in McGraw’s shorts, Oakleaf got their scoring engine running with a 12-3 run; a Durante three, a Durante jumper plus a free thrown and a third Durante jumper with James squeezing a jumper in as the Lady Knights rebounded to a 38-26 hint of a comeback.
Cole’s wrap on McGraw was effective as Hawthorne slowed their game uncharacteristically, thus, opening the door to the Durante show to bring Oakleaf back into the fight.
James ended the stanza with a blocked shot and breakaway layup to put Oakleaf within striking distance at 38-28.
James went on a tear to open the fourth with three straight jumpers off a Scott free throw to put the score at 43-35 near the six minutes to go mark.
At 5:07, Scott hit what looked to be the incoming salvos of the finishing dagger for Hawthorne’s efforts with Durante swishing two threes from the corner to get Oakleaf to within a field goal; 46-44 with 3:20 on the clock.
Unfortunately, Oakleaf’s up-tight defensive strategy proved costly in fouls with Hawthorne awarded bonus free throws near the two minute mark. Without that intel, Hawthorne went to a full court pressure defense to force mistakes and make Oakleaf work to get the ball upcourt.
A Durante to Scott pass got the Knights to within one point; 48-47, with a three and a trap on McGraw from Scott and Trinity Ferebee force Hawthorne into a timeout to squelch a big momentum explosion should Oakleaf nail a go-ahead shot with 28 seconds to go.
Hawthorne played keep away, got two runs to the free throw line and finished the game 51-47.
“Now that pressure of who is going to beat us is off,” said Cole. “We have to respond with big games against Flagler Palm Coast, Terry Parker, Bishop Kenny and Andrew Jackson to finish the season.”