PALM COAST | Nease girls basketball coach Sherri Anthony is not much for moral victories, not even when her squad plays toe-to-toe with one of the top teams in the nation before falling short in overtime.
“I won’t be over this one for a long while,” said the Panthers’ veteran coach after Winter Haven snapped Nease’s 10-game winning streak with a 60-56 win Friday evening in the Rob Moramarco Challenge at Flagler Palm Coast High School.
“Everything we hoped would happen happened,” Anthony said.
Except the ending.
The Blue Devils (13-0), ranked 10th in the nation by USA Today and 11th by MaxPreps, scored four unanswered points in the final minute of overtime to hold off the Panthers (12-3).
Nease had rallied from a 33-23 halftime deficit to take a 54-52 lead with 19 seconds left on Peyton Carter’s three-point play. But Winter Haven’s Zakiyah Franklin scored on a driving layup with 5 seconds remaining to send the game to OT.
“We didn’t want them to get a 3-pointer off,” Anthony said. “But instead of cutting her off, both my girls reached and she made the layup. I guess the kids were afraid of getting called for a blocking foul.”
The Panthers went 0-for-6 from the field in overtime with Mykah Eshbaugh hitting two free throws for their only points. But after Eshbaugh tied it at 56 with 1:32 left, Franklin (12 points) put the Blue Devils up for good with another driving layup with 58 seconds to go. Diamond Battles (15 points) iced the victory with two free throws with five seconds on the clock.
“Their coach is a legend, No. 1,” Winter Haven coach Johnnie Lawson said of Anthony, who is in her 32nd year with the Panthers. “She probably gives them 15 points just being on the bench. Nease is a great team. But if you want to be the best, you have to fight.”
The Panthers outscored the Blue Devils 16-10 in the third quarter to trail 43-39 heading into the final eight minutes of regulation.
“We knew if we could stay within eight to 10 points in the first half we’d have a chance,” Anthony said. “We threw five errant passes against their press which led to five layups, so that was their (first-half) 10-point lead right there.”
Nease got within one point twice in the final five minutes. Camille Hobby’s turnaround jumper with 45 seconds left pulled the Panthers to within 52-51 with 45 seconds remaining.
“That was the turning point,” Hobby said. “After that everybody got really excited and we played really good defense.”
Battles missed two free throws with 28 seconds left. Nease’s Kiya Turner missed the front end of a one-and-one seven seconds later, but Carter grabbed the rebound, hit the putback and added a free throw to give Nease the lead.
“We hung in there with a (two-time defending) state champion, and we held our own,” said Carter, who finished with 10 points and seven rebounds.
Hobby led all scorers with 16 points and blocked two shots. Eshbaugh added 12 points, five rebounds, two steals, three assists and a blocked shot. Turner, Nease’s leading scorer who fought flu-like symptoms all week, had seven points and four assists.
“We fought hard,” Hobby said. “We made some simple mistakes, things we can work on. We’re a really good team, but we’re still young and we’re still learning.”
The Panthers, who start four juniors and a sophomore, are ranked first in Class 7A by MaxPreps. They will have a chance to start a new winning streak today in a 1:30 p.m. game against Orlando Lake Nona at FPC.