E.A. Sports Today

At last for Oxford

Lady Jackets win their first girls county tournament title since 2006, deny Anniston a sixth straight crown; Taylor named MVP

x-Team history before
Friday’s championship game

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — The Oxford girls ended a 16-year title drought in the Calhoun County Tournament Friday night when they rained 3s on Anniston and scored a 64-51 victory at Jacksonville State.

The Lady Jackets hadn’t won this county crown since 2006, and had only been to the finals four times since then before Friday. It was their seventh title overall.

The win ended Anniston’s record run of five straight girls county titles and stopped the Lady Bulldogs from winning their 22nd overall in 2022. They hadn’t lost in the tournament since the 2016 semifinals and Friday would have been their 50th tournament win since 2002. Instead, it was their sixth loss in that 20-year stretch.

“It feels really good to have the monkey off our back,” Oxford coach Melissa Bennett said. “Anniston’s had our number. It’s no secret we were 0-3 against them. We knew they were going to bring it, because it’s a rivalry game, kind of like the Auburn-Alabama game, those rivalry games just mean something more.

“We knew they were going to play great defense and we knew we had to be aggressive. But it feels really good. After that 16-year gap in it, it just feels … nice.”

The Lady Jackets were so excited about winning the title, all the players exited the locker room without anyone taking the county-shaped championship trophy with them. It sat on a chair near the whiteboard as Bennett was making a final walk-through.

“They were so excited to win they left the trophy in the locker room,” she said. “That’s because it’s unfinished business. We want to be back here (in the regionals).”

Leah Taylor had 23 points in the title game for Oxford and was named MVP. The Lady Jackets had so many candidates, but playing in the final they had to fill out their all-tournament ballot prior to the championship game and simply chose their three highest scorers.

Oxford’s tournament MVP Kaleah Taylor (5) pulls up on Anniston’s Akayla Perry for two drives for two of her 23 points. (Photo by Greg Warren)

In a game everyone knew was going to intense from the tip, the Jackets did find a found a moment to make a nice gesture towards one of their own.

Injured forward Lauren Ellard started the game and participated in the opening tip. The Jackets got her the ball and, four seconds into the game, Bennett immediately called a time out, giving Ellard the experience of participating in the county tournament her senior year.

She was appreciative of the gesture and said she expected to be back in the lineup by the time the Lady Jackets get on this floor again. It was five weeks ago Tuesday she got hurt stepping on a teammate’s foot in practice.

“It meant a lot to me to be back on the floor with my team because they’re like a family to me,” Ellard said.

The Lady Jackets played smart defense on Anniston early and opened a 33-17 halftime lead that appeared to have them headed to an easy victory. It was anything but easy.

They had to endure a frantic third quarter in which the Lady Bulldogs got within six with less than three minutes left in it. But then Anniston started turning it over and the Lady Jackets hit three straight 3s to close the quarter that gave Bennett “a slight relief” and a 17-point lead going into the fourth quarter.

“We made a nice run to get back in it, but we dug a hole too big too early,” Anniston coach Eddie Bullock said. “In goes back to experience and us learning how to win. Once you get it where you want it you have to take care of it. It’s a learning process.

“Oxford has got a little bit more experience than we’ve got right now. We’ve got to learn how to be settled. We kind of got a little bit rattled, but once we settle in you see we can play with anybody.”

Of course, Jamea Gaston got the run of 3s going. LaMya McGrue put herself in the middle of the MVP debate the way she started the game, but quickly picked up a second foul and had to come out.

Gaston, a sophomore, came in and buried the Lady Bulldogs from the outside. She hit four of the six 3s Oxford nailed in the first half. The Lady Jackets, who had 100 3-pointers entering the game, matched their season high of 10 3s by the end of the third quarter. They were 2-for-20 from behind the arc the night before against Ohatchee.

Gaston has been hot from behind the arc of late. She’s had 16 treys over the last five games, including six in the Pell City game that started the streak.

“I was being in a zone because I had to pick up because my senior Lauren has not played and I had to pick up her slot and fill in,” Gaston said. “I knew I had to step up as a sophomore and get the job done.  Once that Pell City game got going and I hit all those 3s I felt like I got my momentum.”

Oxford went through another anxious stretch later in the game when Anniston cut the margin to eight with 2:00 to play, but this time the Lady Jackets held them off without incident.

With the Oxford boys winning their title later in the evening, it marked the first time since 2014 (Anniston) the same school swept both crowns and the first time it’s been done by the Yellow Jackets.

Oxford 64, Anniston 51
Taysia West 2 2-2 6, Serena Hardy 2 1-6, Shiwanna Jackson 7 3-7 17, Jade Richardson 0 0-0 0, Tiauna Thomas 1 0-0 2, Akayla Perry 4 1-2 9, Tykeria Smith 6 0-2 12. Totals 22 7-19 51. 
OXFORD – Justice Woods 1 2-3 5, Xai Whitfield 4 4-4 13, Lauren Ellard 0 0-0 0, LaMya McGrue 2 1-2 5, Kaleah Taylor 7 6-9 23, Jamea Gaston 5 0-0 15, Keziah Mickler 0 1-2 1, Kaylen Kenney 0 0-0 0, Mikiya Wilson 1 0-2 2. Totals 20 14-22 64.
Anniston                10    7   15   19   –   51
Oxford                    15   18  16   15   –   64
3-point goal: Oxford 10 (Woods, Whitfield, Taylor 3, Gaston 5). Fouled out: Smith, McGrue. Total fouls: Anniston 17, Oxford 21. Officials: Williams, Holston, Williams.

Rylee Haynes, Pleasant Valley
Ava Pope, Piedmont
LeLe Ridley, Piedmont
Jorda Crook, Ohatchee
Ashley Phillips, Alexandria
Serena Hardy, Anniston
Tykeria Smith, Anniston
Ashley Grant, Jacksonville
Amarie Curry, Jacksonville
LaMya McGrue, Oxford
Justice Woods, Oxford
Kaleah Taylor, Oxford
Angel Bozarth, White Plains
Callyn Martin, White Plains
D.J. Gibbs, Weaver
Most Valuable Player: Kaleah Taylor, Oxford
Outstanding Offensive Player: LaMya McGrue, Oxford
Outstanding Defensive Player: Tykeria Smith, Anniston

Oxford’s Mikiya Wilson (23) and Keziah Mickler put the squeeze on an Anniston player to allow Wilson to pull down a rebound. (Photo by Greg Warren)

You must be logged in to post a comment Login