Making the final four is a difficult task, but continually doing it as the visiting team is even tougher.
However, that is exactly what the Nease girls basketball team accomplished after defeating rival St. Augustine 49-33 in the Class 6A Region 1 final Feb. 18.
This will be the third final four team Sherri Anthony has coached during her 37 years at Nease, which makes the squad a special group and one she will never forget.
The Panthers have developed a reputation as road warriors as all three of their wins in the state tournament have come on the road.
“It shows it doesn’t matter where you put us,” senior Alli Fifield said. “We can drive six hours or play in our hometown, but we still win.”
After a couple of close battles with Ponte Vedra and Navarre, the Panthers took control of the game early and never looked back en route to the 16-point victory over the Yellow Jackets.
“The momentum just keeps picking up, and we’re not stopping here,” senior Savannah Gomes said.
Superb team defense and rebounding fueled the effort for the Panthers, who opened a 25-14 lead at halftime.
The Panthers were active with their feet and hands, which made it difficult for St. Augustine to get into a rhythm offensively.
Anthony credited the bench players for helping make the win possible with their dedication to playing the role of the Yellow Jackets’ and their top scorers all week in practice, so that the starters knew what to expect come game time.
“I was so proud of how they all bought in, because that can be difficult especially for those that don’t play as much,” Anthony said.
That was coupled with the fact that the Panthers were relentless on the offensive boards and created a bevy of second-chance opportunities for themselves when they had the ball.
“Our coaches drilled rebounding in our minds throughout the week, because we knew we were probably going to be undersized,” Robinson said. “It is all about having the mindset to be aggressive and go get the ball.”
Cami Robinson made the most of those opportunities, as she flipped the switch to beast mode and was on fire all game long from beyond the arc and driving to the basket. She had a game-high 18 points, including four three-pointers.
The scoring tandem of Robinson and Sydney Gomes, who had 14 points, was too much for the Yellow Jackets to overcome.
“As a team we did not play our best the last time we played them, so we knew we really had to step it up and it felt like the whole team was feeling that energy,” Robinson said.
Heading into the game Fifield was tasked with going up against the Yellow Jackets’ star post player Janiyah Jackson, who averages a double-double in points and rebounds.
She was able to limit Jackson’s chances as she finished well below her season average with just eight points on the night, including none in the fourth quarter.
“Credit to Sav (Savannah Gomes) for locking down No. 10 (Veronica Hannah of St. Augustine), because she averages nine points a game but didn’t get a shot off tonight,” Anthony said.
The Panthers will play Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas in the Class 6A state semifinal at 6 p.m. Feb. 24.