Girls high school basketball: State semifinals at stake in Friday’s regional finals

The girls basketball regional finals are Friday night.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The state semifinals are on the line for area girls basketball teams. Win and then it’s on to Lakeland next week for the state final four. Lose, and it’s on to next season.

Take a look at Friday’s third-round showdowns, including an all-local tilt between rivals Nease and St. Augustine.

Regional finals

Friday’s games, all at 7 p.m.

Region 1-6A

(6) Nease (24-4) at (5) St. Augustine (23-1)

Road here: St. Augustine d. Gainesville, 73-37; d. Fort Walton Beach, 43-37; Nease d. Ponte Vedra, 48-47; d. Navarre, 52-48.

Winner gets: The state semifinals will be set using MaxPreps ranking points for those games on Feb. 24 in Lakeland.

Glance: The second clash of the season between the teams, with St. Augustine winning the previous one (50-42). The last three meetings between these rivals have been tight (58-52 St. Augustine, 53-50 Nease in OT last season). This Yellow Jackets group is responsible for the shift in how much better this series has gotten. In 2019, the freshman season for current St. Augustine star Janiyah Jackson, Nease won the final meeting of the season 79-19. Since then, the Yellow Jackets have built a state contender, reaching the state semifinals last year. Jackson is averaging a double-double (14.9 ppg, 13.6 rpg) and Emily McIntosh (12.1 ppg) is right behind as a talented scorer. Nease is always steady under longtime coach Sherri Anthony. The Panthers have won by razor-thin margins on the road in the playoffs (combined 5 points). They have three players averaging double figures in scoring, but it’s career 2,000-point scorer Sydney Gomes (20.4 ppg) who remains one of the most dangerous all-around players in the area. Her bucket with time running out beat Ponte Vedra in the opener. Camryn Robinson (14.5 ppg) and Allison Fifield (11.1 ppg) follow for the Panthers. Buckle up. This is going to be another classic.

Region 1-5A

(2) Pensacola Pine Forest (16-7) at (1) Orange Park (24-5)

Road here: OP d. Choctawhatchee, 63-30; d. Rickards, 69-59; Pine Forest d. Ridgeview, 69-31; d. Mainland, 43-33.

Winner gets: The state semifinals will be set using MaxPreps ranking points for those games on Feb. 24 in Lakeland.

Glance: The Raiders last reached the third round of the playoffs in 2010. Before that, they’d been four other times (1979-80, 2001 ‘03). They’ve never been past the third round so this is their shot at history. Sophomore Eris Lester is on a path for stardom with OP. She’s averaging 20.7 ppg and reached a milestone (1,000 career points) with a 15-point effort against Rickards. Nia Brown is a double-double player (12.9 ppg, 9.7 rpg). The Raiders are riding a 13-game winning streak and haven’t lost since Jan. 6 to St. Augustine.

Region 1-4A

(2) Rutherford (24-3) at (1) Bishop Kenny (24-4)

Road here: Rutherford d. Bolles, 60-58; d. Jackson, 62-51; Kenny d. Keystone Heights, 81-23; d. South Walton, 70-33.

Winner gets: The state semifinals will be set using MaxPreps ranking points for those games on Feb. 24 in Lakeland.

Glance: The Crusaders have been pummeling teams. Kenny has a 16-game winning streak going and has seldom been even pushed in that span (just two games decided by less than double figures). Maddie Millar is the main focal point, but Kenny has sneaky good depth. Sophia Rueppell had a career-high 20 points in the playoff opener against Keystone. Sophomores Clare Coyle (8.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and Riley Talbert (8 ppg) are also capable of double-digit nights on the court. The road toughens up against Rutherford, but Kenny has been in the regional final four straight seasons and won its last three.

Region 1-3A

(3) Providence (20-5) at (1) Florida State University High (19-3)

Road here: Providence d. Father Lopez, 47-19; d. Episcopal, 40-30; Florida High d. Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, 70-22; d. Foundation Academy, 79-45.

Winner gets: The state semifinals will be set using MaxPreps ranking points for those games on Feb. 23 in Lakeland.

Glance: The Stallions are one game shy of their first state semifinal berth since 2017 when they reached the championship. They’re getting things done for coach Gigi Bistrow with a heavy dose of underclassmen powering the way. Freshman Janie Boyd (15.3 ppg) is one of eight non-seniors on the team who do more than just contribute. Boyd and junior Ella Ortman (11.5 ppg) are the teams top two scorers. Another freshman, Janai Jordan (9.1 ppg), ranks third on the team in offense. Florida High is led by four-star G Tonie Morgan, a Georgia Tech signee and top 25 national player who is averaging 19.7 ppg.

Region 1-2A

(2) University Christian (17-11) at (1) Florida A&M (15-3)

Road here: UC d. Aucilla Christian, 48-14; d. Quincy Munroe, 58-18; Florida A&M d. St. Joseph, 57-27; d. St. Johns Country Day, 53-45.

Winner gets: The state semifinals will be set using MaxPreps ranking points for those games on Feb. 24 in Lakeland.

Glance: The Rattlers took away an all-local regional final when they cooled off St. Johns Country Day in the second round. Can they do the same to a UC team that has found its rhythm over the final month of the season? The Christians have lost just twice in the past month, to playoff teams Bishop Kenny and Jackson. Taijshiah Baldwin (17 ppg) and Monique Cepeda (11.3 ppg) are a dependable duo for the Christians, who have yet to be tested in the playoffs.


About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.