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Oxbridge girls lose big lead, fall in basketball state semifinals

Two things in life are assured, as the saying goes: death and taxes. Fourteen-point leads in the fourth quarter are usually only one rung below that.

Except for the Oxbridge Academy girls basketball team Wednesday.

Taking a 47-33 lead into the fourth quarter against Orlando-Jones, the ThunderWolves went cold. They allowed the Fightin’ Tigers to come back, tie the game and then win the Class 5A state semifinal in overtime, 57-56, at the Lakeland Center.

“We just weren’t hitting our shots,” Oxbridge coach Tracy Wolfe said.

Wolfe wasn’t exaggerating. The ThunderWolves did not score a single point in the eight-minute fourth quarter and did not break the Fightin’ Tigers’ 19-0 run until sophomore Aaliyah Stanley hit a free throw with 1:38 left in overtime.

“They were taking open shots, they were taking good shots,” Wolfe said. “We just believed they were going to start falling.”

But they didn’t. Not until it was already too late. Jones built a 56-48 lead in overtime, and then the ThunderWolves started making shots again. Haley Howarth hit a 3-pointer, and the Fightin’ Tigers’ Meoshia Peterson hit one of two free throws. Oxbridge freshman Nashani Gilbert-Taylor hit another 3, and the ThunderWolves were back within three points.

Jones players missed its next four free throws, giving Oxbridge a chance to hit a 3 and tie the game up with less than 10 seconds left in overtime.

“Once we hit those two 3s,” Wolfe said, “I believed we could put it into double overtime.”

Said Jones coach Robert Moultrie, a Cardinal Newman alumnus: “I had confidence in my girls. I was a little worried, but I knew we could finish it off.”

Stanley took the ball up the court, but instead of pulling up to attempt a 3-pointer, she drove to the basket, making the layup but allowing the clock to expire immediately afterward.

“I was going for the foul,” Stanley said. “She was holding me, but … it was me that gave up that game.”

Stanley was a major reason Oxbridge built such a large lead through the first three quarters. She finished second on the team with 15 points. Sophomore guard Alexa Zaph led the ThunderWolves with 17.

Fortunately for Oxbridge, another chance at a state-title run could be in the cards for nearly all the players on the team. There is only one senior on the roster, Haley Race, and all of the team’s starters Wednesday were freshmen or sophomores.

“We’re young. There’s a lot of pressure on them,” Wolfe said. “We’re playing freshmen and sophomores. They played their hearts out, and that’s all that matters.”

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