MIDDLEBURG – In a contest hyped to be a battle of steal-strong defense and fast break offense, Middleburg blitzed the Oakleaf High defense with eight straight points off the first quarter whistle …
MIDDLEBURG – In a contest hyped to be a battle of steal-strong defense and fast break offense, Middleburg blitzed the Oakleaf High defense with eight straight points off the first quarter whistle off three steals, two layups and a three-pointer that led to a 12-1 early lead before Oakleaf coach Frank Jenkins called a time out to assess the damage. In the fourth quarter, Middleburg had to hold off a gallant Oakleaf rush to eventually win 69-62 Friday night at Middleburg High School.
“You can’t let a good team like that get ahead that fast,” said Jenkins, who falls to 11-3, 1-1 in district 4-8A with a Saturday district game at Gainesville Buchholz and a rematch on Fri., Jan. 12 with Fleming Island. “Playing catch up is to hard at that point.”
Middleburg continue the assault to the halftime break with Range, Mallory Roney and guard Macie Faucett as the Lady Broncos rolled to a 28-5 lead at the first quarter break.
“We have had three losses where we were way ahead going into the fourth quarter and we didn’t finish and I saw this game going that way,” said Middleburg High coach Michael Hayward, who improves to 12-3, 4-1 in district 3-7A with the lone loss to Nease High School. “We are still trying to find which player will become the one who wants the “rock” (ball) in tight situations and can control the game. In games like this, someone has to step up.”
Middleburg is schedule to play Nease (12-3, 4-0) Fri., Jan. 12.
In the first quarter, Middleburg had 12 steals; three from Range; 14 points from guard Jamyah Harkins and six rebounds from senior Katie Bryan.
Oakleaf’s only response was a jumper from Jazlyn Dukes, a layup and free throw from Andrea Diaz-Merced.
In the second quarter, Middleburg dethrottled slightly to end the first half up just 41-24.
After the break, Oakleaf decided to hit fire with fire with guard Sabria Littles the point man and Diaz-Merced the shooter.
“We knew they were going to keep feeding the Sabria girl and let her drive the lane and we tried to be careful with fouls,” said Hayward. “We also knew the Andrea girl was the corner three point shooter. We just didn’t play defense.”
With Littles running the floor at both ends and Diaz-Merced finding her sweet spot on the floor, Oakleaf chipped away at the Bronco lead to 48-38 with three minutes left in the third.
“Oakleaf is good and I knew they would make a come back,” said Hayward. “I made a move to put Jamyah on their Sabria just to try and slow her down.”
In that span, Littles hit two jumpers and a three-pointer with Diaz-Merced getting two breakaway layups and a three pointers.
At 1:53, Diaz-Merced hit another three-pointer to close the gap to 50-41 and put new life in the Lady Knights’ attack.
A time out from Hayward pre-empted a jumper from Harkins and back-to-back three-pointers from Harkins and Oakleaf’s Chancellor Lee that looked to make the final quarter a barnburner.
Oakleaf’s up tempo defense had an effect on Middleburg’s backcourt as Littles was pressing either Faucett or Roney at halfcourt and creating some turmoil in the Bronco offensive attack.
“We started off not being very aggressive,” said Jenkins. “At the half, I just told them to play the game; listen and play the way we play. If we don’t start full throttle, we can’t beat a team that comes out full throttle.”
Oakleaf opened the fourth quarter with Diaz-Merced hitting two free throws to put the Knights just eight points away when Hayward called a time out to strategize the rest of the game.
Two free throws from Oakleaf center Jalisa Lee who followed with a jumper put the Knights within striking distance at 56-51 with six minutes left in the game.
Littles would pressure again at halfcourt and come up with a breakaway layup to push the score to 56-53 and Middleburg looking disjointed by the Knights surge.
Hayward took another time out and “implored” his squad to settle in and play out the game like they started.
A steal from Faucett and two layups from Harkins who showed off some vivid break speed pushed the Broncos up 60-55 quickly with a questionable collision in front of the Bronco bench giving officials a discussion at halfcourt to decide who would get the ball with two minutes to go and the score at 63-57.
Middleburg would get the ball on the inbounds with Range feeding Harkins for a layup that seemed to pop the Knights’ balloon.
Forced to foul to save ticks on the clock, Oakleaf gave up free throws around a Chancelor Lee three pointer as Middleburg held court to the finish and the final 69-62 score.
Roney finished with 25 points for Middleburg with Range adding 20 points with four blocked shots, three steals and four assists. Harkins had 14 points with three steals.
Littles topped Oakleaf scoring with 22 points with seven rebounds, four steals, two assists and two blocked shots. Chancelor Lee had 11 points.