Buchholz, GHS earn victories

Gainesville's Dej'a McPhee drives the ball to the basket past the Tampa Freedom defense during a game in the 2013 Moramarco Girl's Basketball Challenge, at Buchholz High School in Rob Moramarco Girls Basketball Challenge Friday at Buchholz.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, January 4, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 5, 2013 at 12:22 a.m.

While the success of Gainesville girls basketball, No. 1 in Class 6A, hasn't been a surprise this season with the bulk of its team returning from last year's regional final run, the Buchholz Bobcats are turning heads with their surprising start.


Today's schedule

The Rob Moramarco Girls Basketball Challenge continues today at Buchholz::
Noon — Palm Beach Lakes vs. Haines City
1:30 p.m. — Bartow vs. Choctaw
3 p.m. — Winter Haven vs. Freedom
5 p.m. — Florida High vs. Orlando Jones
6:30 p.m. — Buchholz vs. Steinbrenner
8 p.m. — Gainesville vs. Melbourne Central Catholic

Not that the Bobcats, Final Four participants a year ago, aren't used to being ranked high in Class 7A, but with Jessica Thomas the lone returning starter, few expected them to be 14-3 and No. 1 in the class at this point.

The latest victory coming Friday, with host Buchholz's 78-71 win over Palm Beach Lakes in the annual Rob Moramarco Girls Basketball Challenge at Bud Seymour Gymnasium. Thomas, a Miami signee, led the way with 25 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds, and junior Jaz Rollins had 18, hitting on four 3-pointers.

But a key this season for the Bobcats will be the play of their freshmen, who coach Rebecca Williams calls “the best freshman class in the state.”

Freshman Keona Thompson, who starts, had 11 points and 12 rebounds against the Rams, who reached the 7A regional finals a year ago. Fellow freshman Chelsea Clark came off the bench and hit a pair of 3-pointers.

“I think we started really slow coming out. I always think when you are hosting a tournament and your team has to work, you always come out a little flat,” Williams said. “I don't even think we played that great, and we scored 78 points. If we played a great game, who knows how many points could have been put on the board.”

The Bobcats had a 15-point lead (58-43) going into the fourth period and had to hold off several rallies from Palm Beach Lakes, which pulled as close as five points (69-64) with 3:20 to play. But Buchholz was able to hit enough free throws down the stretch to seal it.

Shanovia Dove had 28 points to lead the Rams and T'maya Newby scored all 18 of her points on six 3-pointers.

“Jessica, she is key out there on the court, sometimes things are there and she has to pull back because some of the kids aren't ready for her passes,” Williams said. “Her leadership on the court has been great. She has adjusted well from the loss we had from last year with Mariah (Harris), Kim (Sinisterra), Onteria (Maddox) and Tori (Baggett), who kind of looked for those passes. She has adjusted well to what she is working with so far.

“Even though Jaz was playing well last year, she was playing behind some other kids so she wasn't getting the praise like the others. Now she is stepping up and she will have another year.”

Gainesville, ranked No. 1 in Class 6A, topped 7A No. 10 Tampa Freedom 56-47, getting 27 points and eight rebounds from Jacksonville signee Dej'a McPhee. Asya Smith added 10 for the Hurricanes (14-1), whose only loss on the season was to 8A basketball power Orlando Dr.Phillips.

The 'Canes trailed only once briefly and led by seven at the half (28-21) and 12 (46-34) through three periods. It was only Freedom's second loss of the season, dropping the Patriots to 15-2.

“I think what helped us the most we played in the Prospect Tournament last week in Orlando during Christmas break and had a chance to play against Dr. Phillips,” said GHS coach David Gordon. “No one in the state has been able to beat them. We played pretty well in the first half, but after that their size and shooting ability took over. I was proud how they fought through it and I think that is going to help us in the second half of the season.”

A team the 'Canes could see in the playoffs is Fort Walton Beach Choctaw, which dismantled Lutz Steinbrenner in the tournament opener, 55-21.

“Hopefully we will get through our district and everything will take care of itself,” Gordon said. “We are taking one game at a time.”

CHOCTAW 55, STEINBRENNER 21: Florida State signee Brittany Brown had a game-high 27 points for the Indians (19-0)

WINTER HAVEN 67, FLORIDA HIGH 56: Cynkeria Mobley had a game-high 36 points for the Blue Devils, who lost in the 6A state semifinals a year ago.

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