• Palatka’s leading scorer, Elexus Banks, shoots against Nease during a game on Jan. 6 at Palatka High School. (CHRIS DeVITTO / Palatka Daily News)

Girls District Basketball: Search For Hope

Panthers, Rams have own motivation for tournaments

Come what may during the regular season, district tournaments bring hope to most teams.

It’s not necessarily hope of a district championship, but hope nonetheless.

For the Palatka High girls basketball team, Monday’s home game with Palm Coast Matanzas brings hope of getting to Wednesday’s semifinal with the top seed in District 5-6A, Ponte Vedra, and taking its chances there.

For Interlachen, it’s hope for better things next season after an almost certain defeat to Keystone Heights in Monday’s District 4-5A semi at IHS.

Both teams took tough losses on the road Thursday night. Palatka fell 45-17 to Bartram Trail, Interlachen 32-28 to Hawthorne.

The Panthers (7-18) were competitive only for a quarter against class 8A Bartram, down 10-5 after the first eight minutes. They were outscored 18-1 in the second quarter and that was that.

Elexus Banks scored 10 points and collected seven rebounds for Palatka, but no teammate had more than three points. Lar’Quiera Watts had six rebounds.

The Panthers enter the tournament as the No. 4 seed, having swept No. 5 Matanzas during the regular season. But the teams haven’t met since Dec. 5 and PHS coach Craig Washington knows that at 7-18, his team has no room to overlook anyone.

“The last few games we’ve been changing some things up and we’re going back to some man-to-man (defense) and get our transition game going again,” he said. “We’ve got some added wrinkles we’ve been working on.”

For all its trouble this season, Palatka has been competitive with each team in the district, including Ponte Vedra. The Sharks rocked the Panthers 69-36 in Ponte Vedra last Friday, but it was only 43-34 in Palatka on Dec. 9. Should Palatka beat Matanzas in the 4-5 game at PHS Monday night, it would face Ponte Vedra at Menendez in Wednesday’s first semifinal. Menendez and Clay are in the second semi.

To have any hope on Wednesday, the Panthers would need scoring help for Banks. It could come from fellow seniors Watts, Timaya Fuce, Jayshia Edwards or any number of ninth-graders.

But Matanzas comes first.

“Be focused and determined,” Washington said. “The seniors are going to have to lead the way. I believe they can do it. I believe we can do it.”

Interlachen is 1-15 after its loss to a Hawthorne team it defeated 36-19 back on Dec. 1. The Hornets led after every quarter in Thursday’s rematch, but not by more than four at any of the breaks.

Ellah McGruder scored nine points, Ashanti Watson eight and Alexis Rodriguez six for the Rams, who paid a heavy price for 5-for-17 shooting from the free-throw line. They play their regular-season finale tonight in Baldwin, then host Keystone in Monday’s 4-5A opener. 

The Indians swept Interlachen 66-13 and 59-25 during the regular season and are almost certain to breeze to Thursday’s final against Bradford, the No, 1 seed in a three-team district.

But that’s not the points for Mike Stevens, who has guided a collection of sophomores and freshman through his first season. For many of them, it was their first season of organized basketball.

“It was definitely a growth season, learning defensive and offensive plays,” Stevens said. “They’re still very positive, they’re looking forward to next season and want to work over the summer. So they’ll come back with a little experience and some new freshmen players.”

District 5-6A

Semifinals and final at Menendez

Monday’s first round: No. 5 Palm Coast Matanzas at No. 4 Palatka, 6 p.m.

Wednesday’s semifinals: No. 1 Ponte Vedra vs. Palatka-Matanzas winner, 6 p.m.; No. 2 Clay vs. No. 3 Menendez, 7:30 p.m.

Friday’s championship: Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.

Directions to Menendez: SR 207 east through Hastings to SR 206. Right on 206 and follow about 11 miles to Menendez, on left shortly past I-95.

District 4-5A

At Interlachen High School

Monday’s semifinal: No. 3 Interlachen vs. No. 2 Keystone Heights, 6 p.m.

Thursday’s championship: No. 1 Bradford vs. semifinal winner

Palatka Daily News

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Palatka, FL 32177
(386) 312-5200


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