E.A. Sports Today

Regional trim

After season of developing new talent, Oxford’s girls show dominant look in 79-52 victory in subregional to secure fourth consecutive Northeast Regional berth.

Oxford’s Jordyn McRae (left) and JaMea Gaston bring pressure during the Yellow Jackets’ 79-52 victory over Gardendale in Friday’s Class 6A Northeast subregional at Oxford. (Photo by Joe Medley)

By Joe Medley
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD — Narratives can shift during a long basketball season, and a new Oxford girls team has emerged going into its fourth consecutive Northeast Regional appearance.

The team looking to mesh new young players around Tennessee State signee Xai Whitfield has been promoted. It’s time to call the Yellow Jackets just a good team, right back where it belongs.

Fresh off of winning the Class 6A, Area 13 title, Oxford flexed with a dominant first half on the way to a 79-52 rout of visiting Gardendale in Friday’s Northeast subregional game on Larry Davidson Court.

The Yellow Jackets will return to Pete Mathews Coliseum, where they won their third consecutive Calhoun County title earlier this season, to play Shades Valley in the Northeast Regional semifinals on Feb. 16.

Tipoff will be 9 a.m. or noon, pending on outcomes in Saturday’s boys subregional action. Oxford’s boys play host to Huffman.

If Oxford’s boys advance to the Northeast Regional, then the AHSAA will schedule the girls and boys to play back to back in Jacksonville.

Veteran Oxford girls’ coach Melissa Bennett has helmed all four of Oxford’s recent regional appearances, including the Yellow Jackets’ first since 2006. All were satisfying, but this one satisfies for a different reason.

“With as much as we graduated and only having two seniors, a lot of people thought that this was going to be a rebuilding year,” Bennett said. “We’ve done a really good job of a team, coming together. 

“The girls have really stepped up. They’ve done a really good job jelling and playing together.”

Whitfield led Oxford with 25 points Friday, but she had help. Senior JaMea Gaston hit six 3-pointers, four in the second half, en route to 20 points.

Freshman Ava Thomas, a multisport athlete rapidly rising as one of the young basketball players to watch in Calhoun County, scored all 16 of her points in the first half.

And a dominant first half it was. Oxford led 51-25 at the break.

“We had less energy than we had than when we played Fort Payne (at area), but we played better together,” Thomas said. “That’s what made us score more.”

Oxford’s JaMea Gaston fires a pass between Gardendale’s Davonna Everette (5) and Chloe Sanders (0) for teammate Shay Montgomery (left) during Friday’s Class 6A Northeast subregional at Oxford. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Bennett said aggression was the game plan, and the main course came with a side of execution.

“We wanted to be aggressive,” Bennett said. “I thought we did a good job attacking the rim, getting paint touches. That was the difference from the first half to the second half. Second half, I felt like we settled a lot.”

Thomas’ scoring stopped in the second half because of a friendly-fire incident. Her right eye happened to move in the way as Whitfield’s arm swung around.

With Oxford leading by such a margin, Thomas didn’t play after the mishap.

“She’s gonna have a good little shiner,” Bennett said. “We’ve got two shiners happening. Shay (Montgomery) has got her a good shiner, and not Ava’s got one.”

Reserve Gabby Lindsey went down holding her right knee in the fourth quarter, but early indications are she’s OK, Bennett said.

Black eyes, bum knees and all, it’s on to regional for the Yellow Jackets, and they flashed a dominant look in their final game on their home floor.

“The preparation this week was different,” Gaston said. “We knew we had to stay alive, so it was all about effort in the first half and how aggressive we could be in the press. …

“We’ve got confidence in ourselves. We’ve just got to play aggressive each quarter and keep the same momentum we had in this game.”

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