Lady Knights back in Final Four

By Randy Lefko Sports Editor
Posted 2/23/23

OAKLEAF - Oakleaf High’s frenetic girls basketball attack, once again, stormed the court with their high-energy attacking game and blasted the 16th-ranked Land O’Lakes Gators with a 68-36 …

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Lady Knights back in Final Four


OAKLEAF - Oakleaf High’s frenetic girls basketball attack, once again, stormed the court with their high-energy attacking game and blasted the 16th-ranked Land O’Lakes Gators with a 68-36 thrashing Friday night in their region 1-6A championships held at Oakleaf High School.

“We’ve been here before and have pushed to get here again for these girls,” said Oakleaf coach Fred Cole. “Kaylah and Fantasia are great team leaders and the others have followed suit to put us in this Final Four.”

The finish, against the 20-4 Gators, seemed to smooth at the scoreboard as the Knights blasted the nets early behind steals and layups from team leader Kaylah “The Pickpocket” Turner. Oakleaf and Turner quickly injected their game path with a 7-0 quick start and the game just extended. Fantasia James pushed her defensive game with two blocked shots along the way to put Oakleaf up 21-8 after the first quarter buzzer.

“This kind of game was a little more worrisome to me because our previous two playoff games were blowouts and this Land O’Lakes team beat Nease to get here,” said Cole. “I was worried that we might come in a little too overconfident.”

Oakleaf, 26-2 and the number two seed behind St. Thomas Aquinas (22-8), advances to the Class 6A Final Four with a state semifinal game on Thurs., Feb. 23 in Lakeland’s Civic Center to play third seed Charlotte 21-6, at 8 p.m.

St. Thomas Aquinas, fifth ranked state wide and the top seed in Class 6A, will play fourth seed Lake Gibson, 16-10, on Thursday in the 6 p.m. game.

Oakleaf is ranked fourth in Class 6A with Charlotte at number three. Lake Gibson is ranked ninth in CLass 6A.

Statewide, Charlotte is 18th ranked with Oakleaf at 20th. Charlotte’s last loss, a January 16 game to St. Joseph Academy of St. Louis, MO, was followed by nine wins to the Final Four.

Oakleaf lost last on January 19 to Class 5A top ranked Bishop Kenny (29-1, fourth ranked in state) before rattling off seven straight wins.

In the second quarter against Land O’Lakes, with the Gators trying to salvage some scoring with a set of threes from top scorer Jaylin Neder, a sophomore who finished with 21 points with four threes, the Knights answered with James matching Neder’s attempts.

“Our leaders led like they are supposed to,” said Cole, speaking of his two seniors Turner and James. “Our bench, especially Armaany Mullins and Jan’Niece Bender, have become as essential as the starters and made their game as strong as our starters.”

Ironically, with the Class 6A eight ranked Oakleaf High boys team, now 24-1 and heading to Gainesville High (22-6, seventh ranked) for their region semifinal on Tues., Feb. 21, Turner acknowledged that both teams feed from the energy of the other.

“They support us and we support them and we want both teams to keep winning,” said Turner. “We play similar games; fast and attacking, and it’s working.”

Oakleaf entered the halftime lockers up 44-18, then cruised to the win.

Note: Oakleaf and Gainesville are in their region semifinal of Class 6A for boys basketball with Ponte Vedra, the number one seed despite losing the district title to Oakleaf (Strength of schedule points) will host fourth seed Gulf Breeze.


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