Girls hoops state semis: Nease looks to keep magical season going

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The Nease girls basketball team is in the state semifinals in Lakeland this week. The Panthers face Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas on Thursday at 6 p.m. A glance at the game.

Class 6A state semifinals

Nease (25-4) vs. St. Thomas Aquinas (25-4)

When: Thursday, 6 p.m.

Where: RP Funding Center, Lakeland.

Road here: Nease d. Ponte Vedra, 48-47; d. Navarre, 52-48; d. St. Augustine, 49-33; St. Thomas Aquinas d. North Miami, 70-25; d. Blanche Ely, 57-53; d. Seminole Ridge, 79-25.

Winner gets: Wekiva or Bloomingdale in the state championship game on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.

Watch it: The game will be streamed on NFHS Network. Cost is $10.99 for a monthly pass.

Glance: Longtime coach Sherri Anthony is in the third state semifinal game of her storied career. And it’s the most unlikely of her career, too. In 1999, the Panthers, led by dynamic guard Kelly Stevenson, were loaded. They won the state title. In 2019, eventual Miss Basketball Camille Hobby led the Panthers to a state runner-up finish. It’s not as if this current team is devoid of playmakers. Sydney Gomes (20.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg) is a career 2,000-point scorer and headed to Florida Southern. Ave Maria signee Allison Fifield is averaging 11 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Junior Camryn Robinson is the team’s second-leading scorer (14.6). It’s just how Nease arrived here that’s surprising. The Panthers were upset in the district tournament by Ponte Vedra. They then turned right back around and stunned the Sharks in the playoff opener on a driving bucket by Gomes as time ran out. They went back on the road to beat Navarre, then handled a St. Augustine team that it had lost back-to-back games to reach the state semis. Do the Panthers have more magic left against the defending state champs?

Coach speak: “This is like probably one of the most special final fours because nobody gave us a prayer in the beginning of the year. I mean, they thought we get a little over .500, probably. But these kids been resilient. They persevered through a lot of bad situations and our theme this year was earned not given. And so, they have earned this one.” — Sherri Anthony

Player speak: “I mean, this team coming into this year, I knew we’re going to be good. I didn’t think we had a final four in mind though. But you look at this team. We look more unathletic than anyone out there. We don’t have size. So, we just really worked hard this year and I’m proud of us. We earned all of this, and I’m ready for this week.” — Sydney Gomes

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.