PALATKA - In the Jarvis Williams Christmas Tournament, the Oakleaf Lady Knights more resembled Godzilla stomping through downtown Tokyo as the Knights decimated the field to make it to tonight’s …
PALATKA - In the Jarvis Williams Christmas Tournament, the Oakleaf Lady Knights more resembled Godzilla stomping through downtown Tokyo as the Knights decimated the field to make it to tonight’s championship game versus the Menendez Falcons. The Knights so overwhelmed the Falcons that it took Menendez until :40 seconds remaining in the first quarter to sink their first basket holding the Falcons to a 19-3 first quarter on their way to a 56-16 annihilation to take home the hardware.
Oakleaf returned home for a showdown with 6A power Nease High (12-3) and did not blink on their way to a 76-54 dismantling of Nease Hall of Fame coach Sherri Anthony as the Lady Knights
“We lost our first game of the year and I was ticked off, the girls were ticked off and we’ve won every one since,â€ said Oakleaf Head Coach Fredrick Cole, after his Christmas win in Palatka. â€œItâ€™s just a mission. The calendar is getting ready to flip to January. This is when you need to play your best basketball. We are the hunted. When you are the hunted, you have to look over your shoulder all the time. They donâ€™t respect what we’ve done. That’s fine, that’s good, so let’s go out there and show them.â€
In their tournament semifinal, Oakleaf faced off against Andrew Jackson, now 12-3 and ranked sixth in Class 4A, and won a thrilling come-from-behind and overtime 70-64 contest that should have been the championship game.
Against Jackson, with 13.3 seconds on the clock and Jackson up 57-55 after one of two free throws, guard Kaylah Turner bobbed and weaved through the jellyfish defense of three Jackson defenders before righting up and popping a jumper at the buzzer to tie the game and go to overtime.
“I got the ball on the throw in and kept looking for Fantasia to take the shot because she just hit three three pointers in row,” said Turner. “When I saw the clock getting down, I knew I had to find an opening and take the shot.”
In the overtime, Oakleaf turned up the defensive pressure to a full court capture net in the Jackson backcourt, but Jackson struck first after four offensive rebounds got foul shots to go up 58-57.
After an exchange, Janeice Bender induced an offensive foul, but guard Trista Brown got her fifth foul to minus one of Cole’s top four magicians.
“The beauty of the this team is they all work with the singlemindedness of just getting the job done,” said Cole. “We lost that first game of that season and we have worked to make people forget that.”
Oakleaf, at first, seemed determined to give the game away with errors between the 20s before Bender got fouled to a one and one free throw situation that tied the game 58-58.
Jones got an offensive foul to give Oakleaf a quick turnaround that led to a Turner jumper to 60-58 with 1:41 to go.
Fantasia James hit her lane-side 12-footer to a 62-58 lead with less than a minute.
Another Turner jumper pushed Oakleaf to 64-58 with 41 seconds.
In their tournament opener, Oakleaf faced off against a somewhat familiar face with Bradford County coach Kenyia Johnson on the Lady Tornadoes bench as head coach. Johnson was a Fleming Island High standout when Cole was an assistant coach at Fleming Island.
“It was neat to see her on the other end of the court,” said Cole. “She was a tenacious, smart player and her team was just like her.”
In their tournament opener against Bradford, 6-4 now, Oakleaf won 62-50 with a second half surge that Bradford could not withstand.
“The bracket was designed had our end against the two toughest teams in the tournament,” said Cole. “This team does not flinch at that and they to compete against the best.”
Against Menendez, Oakleaf, now 14-1 and No. 2 in Class 6A behind Blanche Ely (13-1), wasted no time getting after it as Kamiya Jones opened the scoring with a corner 3-pointer :45 seconds into the match. Trista Brown defended the throw-in and stole the ball for a layup to get ahead 5-0 at 6:52. Not to get upstaged, Kaylah Turner followed her teammate with yet another steal and layup to get out to 7-0 and the first of many Menendez timeouts at 6:40.
The Knights had such a strong defense, at the half the Falcons were held to eight points as the Knights went on an offensive blitz racking up a 33-8 halftime lead. â€œEverybody is enamored with offense, and offense wins games, but defense wins championships and thatâ€™s what I really think we need to work on,â€ said Cole.
Out of the locker room, the Knights stayed red hot as they piled on another 18 points and finally saw Menendez get to double digits at 3:48 when the Falcons finally scored their 11th point. Most impressive was the passing to spot off offensive rebounds. It was as if each player knew the next person would just be at a point and threw the ball there. â€œMost of this group is now together three years,â€ said Cole. â€œThey play in the summer, in the fall, and we stop practice and tell them, this is what we are looking for. They know what we want and they know each otherâ€™s strengths. We call it KYP- know your personnel.â€ Once the Falcons hit the 11th point, the remaining almost four minutes, the Knights held Menendez scoreless for a 51-11 third quarter score. â€œI told the girls, everybody is circling us on their schedule, so we canâ€™t come down and not play hard. If we do, weâ€™re going to get beat.â€
The final quarter saw Cole clear the bench with the non-starters and put the final eight minutes on their shoulders. His team did not disappoint as the Knights still held the Falcons to six fourth quarter points and even added five more of their own with a three pointer from Armaany Mullins, and a basket from Makayla Trusel.
Post-game, Cole seemed to put the notice out to all the other teams in his Division. â€œWe are obviously looking at the next game, but we know what we can do if we really get it going and get down in it. Weâ€™re not even there yet. We are not where I think we can be. We have a couple more notches to go, especially on defense. Yes- even offensively. That is our motivation.â€
Against Nease, Oakleaf blasted away to a 34=21 first half lead with Nease closing slightly in the second half, but unable to close the 10-plus point gap.
The backend of the Oakleaf schedule has a rematch with Andrew Jackson on January 18 with Ridgeview (12-5) and Bishop Kenny (16-1) on the docket before the district tournament.
“I want them to be tested and ready to hit the playoffs,” said Cole. “We want the best on the other side to see what we are made of.”