Girls high school basketball: Providence, St. Johns Country Day ready for rare state semifinal chances

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The girls high school basketball state tournament begins Wednesday in Lakeland and four local teams are headed there. A glance at the Class 2A and 3A final four games on Wednesday. Bishop Kenny (4A) and Oakleaf (7A) play on Thursday.

Class 3A

Providence (22-5) vs. Miami Country Day (23-7)

When: Wednesday, 10 a.m.

Where: RP Funding Center, Lakeland.

Watch it: Game must be purchased on the NFHS Network. Cost is $11.99 for a monthly pass.

Road here: Providence d. Bradford, 58-46; d. Florida High, 45-42; d. P.K. Yonge, 64-58; MCD d. Saint Andrew’s, 66-37; d. Somerset Prep, 63-31; d. Westminster Academy, 55-39.

Winner gets: Cardinal Mooney or King’s Academy in the 3A title game on Saturday at 10 a.m.

Notable: This marks Providence’s second trip to the state semifinals in program history. The first came in 2017 when a 27-0 Providence rolled in and pummeled Miami’s SLAM Academy 77-18. The opponent in the final was Miami Country Day, which handled the Stallions 81-40. That squad was senior heavy. This year’s Providence squad has seniors, Abby Kanady, Lilliebeth Novak, Ella Ortman and Emily Shami, but it’s a different vibe. Ortman is the top player (17.8 ppg), followed by sophomore Janai Jordan (10.1 ppg) and Novak (7.9 rpg).

Quotable: “In ‘17, of the eight members of that team, seven of them were seniors. So, they were a mature … they hadn’t been there but they were vested. These four seniors that we have this year, haven’t been to this obviously, and they’ve had to pull along. We have freshmen on the team, even have an eighth grader that came up after JV. So, they’ve had to sort of be mommas to some of the younger kids and it’s been that way the whole season, though. That’s the difference in the two teams.” — Stallions coach Gigi Bistrow.

Class 2A

St. Johns Country Day (19-5) vs. Faith Christian (14-11)

When: Wednesday, 2 p.m.

Where: RP Funding Center, Lakeland.

Watch it: Game must be purchased on the NFHS Network. Cost is $11.99 for a monthly pass.

Road here: St. Johns d. St. Joseph, 64-29; d. Munroe, 58-44; d. NFEI, 50-49; Faith d. Deltona Trinity Christian, 70-38; d. Mount Dora Christian, 61-18; d. Central Florida Christian, 61-52.

Winner gets: Horeb Christian or Evangelical Christian in the 2A state title game Friday at 4:30 p.m.

Glance: The Spartans have been in the state semifinals but not since the tournament expanded. St. Johns reached the final four in 1987 when that was the third game in the postseason. They’ve never been four rounds deep like this year. The attention is squarely on McDonald’s All-American guard Taliah Scott, the reigning All-News4JAX player of the year. She’s averaging 35.8 ppg and will certainly be in the running for the state’s Miss Basketball. The Spartans run everything through Scott and she often delivers. NFEI did a remarkable job on Scott in the regional final, putting bigs on her and forcing her to try and get in the paint and slow the power game. Scott had 18 points in that game, but scored only three points in the second half, all on foul shots. One of those was the walk-off game winner. When Scott was laboring offensively, Mary Kate Kent stepped up huge. She knocked down back-to-back 3s in the fourth quarter that were momentum infusions. Scott will draw double and triple teams and it’s imperative that she get it to the hot hand in that situation. One major area that Scott has grown in from early in her career is distribution. Her 4.8 assists per game is the highest of her career and double what it was as a freshman. These teams met last season with Faith Christian winning 53-34.

Quotable: “The team we had last year, I felt like we should have went to the final four last year. So being able to do it, being able to bring my team along with me, everybody’s happy, everybody’s celebrating, everybody, it’s just good vibes. And so being able to take them to Lakeland, to a place that I’ve been to that I haven’t had success in yet, but I want to have it with them. It’s just you know, so surreal and it’s incredible.” — Taliah Scott.

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.