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Gaston’s Last Play for Oxford

Oxford senior JaMea Gaston during the Yellow Jackets’ Class 6A Northeast Regional semifinal against Shades Valley on Friday in Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Oxford senior JaMea Gaston during the Yellow Jackets’ Class 6A Northeast Regional semifinal against Shades Valley on Friday in Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Jacksonville, AL – Not one to let the scoreboard have the last word, Oxford senior ends her career in the most JaMea Gaston way possible.

By Joe Medley

There’s a way to end a high school career, and JaMea Gaston wasn’t about to let the scoreboard have the last word Friday.

The cruel bulbs said Oxford was five seconds away from falling 71-54 to Shades Valley in their Northeast Regional semifinal in Pete Mathews Coliseum, but the ball remained live.

Gaston maneuvered in behind Shades Valley point guard Kyliah Ravizee, who nonchalantly tried to dribble out the final seconds on Oxford’s end of the court.

Let the record reflect that the 5-foot-2 Gaston went out with a steal as the buzzer sounded, while making her fourth and final Northeast Regional appearance.

“That moment was just for them to not get another shot attempt,” Gaston said. “Technically, since I’m a senior, it’s the last time I pick up a ball.

“Not, like, pick up a ball, but pick up a ball in this gym.”

That’s so JaMea Gaston, as her coach and teammates describe her, and that was the final statement for a senior class that includes Tennessee State signee Xai Whitfield.

It wasn’t the best of days for Oxford. Whitfield’s 20 points, Shay Montgomery’s 14 with nine rebounds and Gaston’s nine points with one steal weren’t enough, not nearly enough to counter Angela Williams’ 32 points and 13 rebounds.

Williams had help, with Zoey Little adding 13 points, and Lauren Nelson scored 10 as Shades Valley (17-14) moved on to the regional final and a chance to advance to the Final Four.

Oxford, which made the 2022 Final Four in a breakthrough season, saw the end of the line in a season when younger players grew up around holdovers Whitfield and Gaston.

“I don’t think anybody thought we’d be back here,” Oxford coach Melissa Bennett said. “Only two seniors, a totally new group of varsity players, so, it took us a little while to figure out how to play together, but they want to play together. They want to play for each other.

“That was one thing that our seniors really harped on.

It was the final act for a dynamic duo that won three Calhoun County titles together in Pete Mathews Coliseum … Oxford’s first three county titles since 2006.

It was one last time in Pete Mathews Coliseum, which Whitfield and Gaston had helped to make an annual February home away from home.

“We accomplished a lot,” Whitfield said. “I didn’t accomplish everything I wanted to, but what the group accomplished, especially this year, we did pretty good.”

Gaston had the last word.

“If you could put her fight and her tenacity in people,” Bennett said. “Like, she’s the smallest person on the court. I think we’ve had one game, when we played Gardendale (in the subregional) where they had a player smaller than her. I think that was the first time in her career.

“She’s a fighter. She’s a scrapper. You wish you could put that emotion, that drive in people.”

Gaston snuck up behind Ravizee, knocked the ball away and retrieved it near midcourt, just in front of the press table and just as the buzzer sounded. Nowhere to go from there, but she kept going until there was nowhere to go.

“Just keep fighting, keep going,” Gaston said. “We may be down, but keep doing the little things.”

 

Oxford senior JaMea Gaston during the Yellow Jackets’ Class 6A Northeast Regional semifinal against Shades Valley on Friday in Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Photo by Joe Medley)
Oxford senior JaMea Gaston during the Yellow Jackets’ Class 6A Northeast Regional semifinal against Shades Valley on Friday in Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Photo by Joe Medley)

 

Oxford’s girls make their fourth consecutive Northeast Regional appearance, taking on Shades Valley in a Class 6A semifinal.

Photos by Joe Medley

Oxford’s Xai Whitfield goes to the basket against Shades Valley during their Class 6A Northeast Regional semifinal Friday in Pete Mathews Coliseum.
Oxford’s Ava Thomas shoots a 3-pointer against Shades Valley during their Class 6A Northeast Regional semifinal Friday in Pete Mathews Coliseum.
Oxford’s Bri Wilson goes baseline against Shades Valley during their Class 6A Northeast Regional semifinal Friday in Pete Mathews Coliseum.
Oxford’s Jordyn McRae shoots a 3-pointer against Shades Valley during their Class 6A Northeast Regional semifinal Friday in Pete Mathews Coliseum.
Oxford’s Ava Thomas drives against Shades Valley during their Class 6A Northeast Regional semifinal Friday in Pete Mathews Coliseum.
Oxford’s Xai Whitfield shoots a 3-pointer against Shades Valley during their Class 6A Northeast Regional semifinal Friday in Pete Mathews Coliseum.
Oxford coach Melissa Bennett reacts to a call against Shades Valley during their Class 6A Northeast Regional semifinal Friday in Pete Mathews Coliseum.
Oxford coach Melissa Bennett calls out instruction against Shades Valley during their Class 6A Northeast Regional semifinal Friday in Pete Mathews Coliseum.
Oxford’s student section against Shades Valley during their Class 6A Northeast Regional semifinal Friday in Pete Mathews Coliseum.
Oxford’s student section against Shades Valley during their Class 6A Northeast Regional semifinal Friday in Pete Mathews Coliseum.
Oxford’s cheerleaders work against Shades Valley during their Class 6A Northeast Regional semifinal Friday in Pete Mathews Coliseum.

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