ORANGE PARK - The Orange Park Lady Raiders basketball team gassed up the Raider charter plane far and wide over the holiday and came home with a fistful of strong wins and just one loss as coach …
ORANGE PARK - The Orange Park Lady Raiders basketball team gassed up the Raider charter plane far and wide over the holiday and came home with a fistful of strong wins and just one loss as coach Michael Nesmith has found the chemistry of his scrappy squad.
“I like to think our team will learn from the trip and be battle tested for the second half of the season,” said Orange Park coach Michael Nesmith, now at 10-4. “We had one loss; a 50-45 loss to Eustis, that we learned a lesson about overlooking opponents. The rest of our traveling was very fruitful, I hope, in generating a strong attitude toward the rest of our schedule which will be very challenging.”
With wins prior to the break over University Christian, Rickards and Columbia, Nesmith went road warrior with scorched Earth results with wins over Florida A & M, Leon, Elizabethton (TN) and Cocoa with a loss to Eustis (50-45) as the lone blemish to put Orange Park at 10-4 and in control of district 3-5A. The Lady Raiders are on top with their 10-4 with a talented Ridgeview squad (7-7) right behind them and Middleburg
chasing at 4-7. Westside is at 5-4 with Clay 1-8.
“We drove to Tallahassee, played a few games there with the win over Florida A & M on the 17th, came home, took a week off for Christmas, had few practices, went back to Tallahassee for Leon, came home, had one practice, then headed to Tampa for a Christmas tournament,” said Nesmith. “We were lucky that the entire team was able to travel with other teams having kids gone for vacations and such.”
Upcoming though, Nesmith has a packed house on his schedule with unbeaten St. Augustine (16-0, 5A Final Four last year) on January 6, revisits with Columbia and Leon and a clash with county rival Oakleaf on January 18. Road trips to Ribault (4A region semifinalist) and Daytona Beach Mainland (6A region semifinals last year) are on tap to end January with the Lady Raiders at home for the season final against Trenton on January 27. Trenton was a Class 1A Final Four finisher last year losing to state runnerup Hawthorne.
“Right now, Eris Lester (guard) is our leader, but Samantha Hardison has upped her game to bring a good tenacity to the team,” said Nesmith. “Against Leon, we were up by just five points at the half, but Sam hit for eight points right out of the locker room and that pushed our lead. Against Elizabethton out of Tennessee, our first game in Tampa, we won 57-54, but we were down by 12 with five minutes to go. The team collectively found a way to bring that game back to us.”
Nesmith noted that Hardison’s recent scholarship offer had inspired a better team approach with teammate Nia Brown already having signed to Chipola College earlier in the year.
“I think it changed her from just playing out her senior year for fun, to holding herself accountable to the team,” said Nesmith. “The scholarship offer offered a bit of self confidence that she can play at the college level.”
Keystone Heights continues to roll along after a runnerup finish at the Clay Christmas Tournament with a semifinal win over Ridgeview and rough loss in the final to Rickards with coach Jessica Sykes Carter on the mend from knee surgery.
Two targets on the Lady Indians (11-2), are Ridgeview a third time on January 11 and 6A-Ponte Vedra (10-5) at January 14.
“I tell my girls, if we play teams like Ridgeview, Rickards and Ponte Vedra, we will measure how good we really are,” said Carter. “I know one thing for sure, these girls may not measure up athletically, but they will run over nails for this team.”
Junior guard Kiley Channell leads the Lady Indians with a scrappy 15.4 points per game with Dezaray Bright the hammer in the paint with 10.3 points per game and 13 rebounds in the paint per game. Channell and Emma Rogel average four steals per game to amp up the Indians defense. Rogel and Yasmine Bryant were key scorers over the break when Channell was getting bumped around on her breakaways.
St. Johns Country Day School, 9-3, lost to Rickards in their opener at the Clay Christmas tournament then bopped Bishop Snyder and Menendez in their consolation games. Taliah Scott is still top scorer with a 32.3 points per game with Mary Kate Kent at 12.2. Scott also has 71 rebounds, 53 assists and 59 steals with Jaidy Mejia top rebounder with 89 grabs.
Oakleaf has maintained its elite status on the court though wins have been harder to come by with junior guard Kaylah Turner hitting her 1,000th career point recently. Lady Knights’ coach Fred Cole has a treacherous schedule to finish, but wants to put his ladies in the correct mind frame for a second possible Final Four run.
“We went to Naples, played bad and everyone came home sick,” said Cole. “We are awaiting test results, but the schedule is shut down for a bit now.”
Cole remains diligent and optimistic.
“Our goal is still the district title and then a deep region run with a return to the Final Four,” said Cole. “It’s still our title to give up and we are going to defend it.”
Fleming Island, 7-3, went one win, one loss at the Jarvis Williams Invite in Palatka with a loss to unbeaten St. Augustine (68-46) and a win over host Palatka (69-33). Avery Cannon hit four three pointers against St. Augustine for a team leading 14 points. Victoria Noble added 13. Cannon had another four off 20 points against Palatka with Alyssa Pearson adding 13.
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