HomeSportsBasketball Roundup: The Esca-Rosa Challenge highlights the action on opening day

Basketball Roundup: The Esca-Rosa Challenge highlights the action on opening day


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Whether the iron is unkind or the swish from a ball tickling the twine, those sounds are some of the sweetest to grace anyone’s ears.

Those sounds also mean one thing: basketball is back.

Following a number of preseason games, the 2023-24 high school boys and girls basketball campaigns in the Pensacola area officially got underway on Monday as the athletic calendar proceeds to transition from fall to winter.

Headlining the action on opening day was the Esca-Rosa Challenge, a two-day event of 12 local boys teams playing 12 games at Pensacola Catholic High School.

‘Old-school, smash-mouth football’: Pensacola Catholic runs its way into regional title game

Football playoffs: Tough third quarter dooms Escambia, Northview suffers late heartbreak

Here are some of the highlights of Day One, along with other recaps from the rest of area’s activity.

Boys Basketball

Esca-Rosa Challenge

West Florida 63, Jay 42

Coming off a successful 11-win season and a perfect preseason, the Jaguars picked up where they left off with a convincing win against the Royals.

“We stayed humble and we played together as a team. Nobody is selfish on this team,” West Florida head coach Phillip Childers said. “It’s a unit and everybody is finding the open person on the floor.”

With five players listed a 6-foot-4 or taller, the Jaguars are also long and athletic. They used those physical advantages to smother Jay, particularly late in the first half.

West Florida caused a series of turnovers by stripping ballhandlers on dribble drives or swatting shots on the interior, each of which led to fast breaks.

“We have guards that have quick feet and we have bigs that have long arms and long legs. So we’re always going to stay aggressive and go for the ball, we’re not going to be conservative,” Childers said. “So when one of our guards get beat, we got another fast guard that can back them up. And if they get inside, we got bigs that can take them on.”

After beating the buzzer with a 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter, Dominick Nicholson did it again from long distance as the opening half came to close to put the Jaguars up 35-19. The senior wing added two two-handed dunks to lead all scorers with 19 points. He was the only West Florida player in double figures.

The Royals their trimmed deficit to 10 midway through third and early in the fourth, but could not get closer. Ethan McDonald had a team-high 16 points for Jay, who plays Pensacola High at 3:15 p.m. Tuesday.

The Jaguars look to move their record to 2-0 in the regular season when they take on West Florida Baptist Academy at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Spanish Fort (Ala.) 58, Pine Forest 56

The Eagles couldn’t hold a late lead against the Toros in what was easily the best game of the day.

No team held an advantage of more than eight points.

“This kind of game could be good for (the players) as far us learning lessons early,” Pine Forest head coach Ty McCants said. “We shouldn’t have lost because we were in control of the game, but it’s a good test for the young kids and we know what not to do going forward.”

Towards the end of a fourth quarter that featured five lead changes and three ties, Pine Forest was in position for a victory. The team was up 56-52 with 38.2 seconds remaining thanks to four clutch free throws from senior guard Maurice Smith and a critical steal by freshman forward Jackson Parker.

However, coming out of a timeout, Spanish Fort responded immediately with a 3-pointer by Lucas Bourdeau. After the ensuing inbounds was in play, the Toros trapped, allowing for Joshua Powell to intercept a pass and lay in the go-ahead and game-winning basket.

The Eagles had two chances to take the lead, but a pair of shots in the paint bounced off the rim. They nearly sent the game into overtime on a miracle play with one second left as a Antonio Montgomery delivered a perfect baseball pass down the length of the court to Kameron Williams, but the sophomore’s shot attempt bounced off the backboard.

While relinquishing their advantage late is what proved most costly, the Eagles didn’t help themselves with a plethora of giveaways as well mistakes on both sides of the ball, whether that’d be dribbling into a turnover or allowing Spanish Fort the space to knock in eight 3-pointers.

“I’m not going to lie, there was nothing encouraging from that game,” McCants said with a laugh. “We turned it over 20 times. We didn’t execute offensively or defensively. The only thing we got from that game was lessons.”

Smith led Pine Forest with 12 points. Jacob Black had a game-high 15 points for the Toros.

Pine Forest will try to learn from its lessons when it plays at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday against Milton.

Milton 63, Escambia 56

The Panthers saw a 14-point, third-quarter cushion evaporate. But thanks to a key defensive adjustment and timely makes, they outlasted the Gators at the end.

“We’re early in the season, we’re not going to play our best ball right now, but it’s good to get the win,” said Joey Nieves, who collected his first win as Milton’s head coach. “Escambia is well-coached by David Williams. They have really good players like Tayshaun Gilcrist and we had to weather that storm a little bit, but we did and I’m happy my boys found a way to win.”

With the new foul rules instituted this year, the Panthers reached their limit with five minutes remaining in the game. Those foul troubles emerged when freshman guard Jhi Smith knocked down a free throw to cap a 17-3 surge and tie the game at 51-51 with 3:26 remaining.

From there, Nieves opted to change his half-court defense from a man-to-man to a 1-3-1 zone. The adjustment worked, as Escambia struggled from the field down the stretch.

“It was a little bit of a gamble, but it paid off for us,” Nieves said. “We have to learn not to foul, but that’s part of our identity, we play aggressively. We’ll do better.”

Draining a free throw to put the Panthers back in front, junior guard Treymar Jones found fellow junior Ra’shaun Elzy for a 3-pointer to bump the advantage to 58-54. Elzy later drained a pull-up jump shot from the foul line for the dagger.

Jones and senior guard C.J. McKinley each put up 15 points to lead Milton. Elzy scored seven of his 10 points in the fourth quarter.

Gilcrist scored a game-high 27 points for the Gators, who play at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Navarre.

Pensacola 75, L.E.A.D. Academy 20

The opening game of Esca-Rosa Challenge was all Tigers, as they steamrolled past the Lions.

Pensacola scored 25 points in the first quarter before winning the third quarter by a 24-0 margin.

Eight players entered the scorebook for the Tigers, who were paced by the duo of Braylen Steele and Noah Jones. Steele poured in a team-high 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting and four steals while Jones had a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. 

Nick Jones chipped in eight points, 11 rebounds and five steals.

Pensacola takes on host Pensacola Catholic at 10 a.m. Tuesday. The Lions will follow that contest and face Pace at 11:45 a.m..

Booker T. Washington 57, Pace 25

Following a fairly competitive opening quarter, the Wildcats suffocated the Patriots offense en route to a dominant win.

Unleashing traps following every make, Booker T. Washington often didn’t allow Pace to into its half-court offense, let alone got off a good shot. That recipe turned what was a five-point game after the first eight minutes into a 19-point Booker T. halftime advantage.

The Wildcats entered the locker room with a flourish as Kendrick Burrell drove to the basket and delivered a hook pass to Logan Brown, who scored just before the buzzer.

“The rotating guy was getting from one spot to another knowing that another guy was coming,” Wildcats head coach Dwayne Louis said. “The effort to hustle get to that spot I think helped us out a lot.”

Twelve different players scored for Booker T. Washington, who battles Lighthouse Private Christian Academy at 5 p.m. Tuesday. Alex Jasquith had a team-high 10 points. Tylon Lee had seven points to lead the Patriots.

Lighthouse Private Christian Academy 63, Pensacola Catholic 55

The Stringrays were in control for most of the night, but needed a late surge to buzz past the Crusaders.

LPCA saw a healthy 12-point cushion trimmed to two during the fourth quarter, but that cushion returned thanks to a 12-2 spurt. Head coach David Laxton credited his team’s defensive effort for that sequence.

“We had to stay back on defense and we had to control our fouls,” he said. “Those killed us, that’s how they got back into the game. But our defense stood strong and bumped the lead back up.”

Heitor Pizzato Neto closed the run with a pull-up jumper. The senior forward had a team-high 11 points. Junior forward Solomon Sutton poured in a day-high 31 points to pace the Catholic.

Innisfree Thanksgiving Showcase

Gulf Breeze 81, Foley (Ala.) 56

The host Dolphins collected win No. 1 on the season after blowing past the Lions.

Stats were unavailable.

Gulf Breeze plays Archbishop McCarthy at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Girls Basketball

Booker T. Washington 53, Navarre 27

For the first time from the 2019-20 season, the Wildcats have picked up a win against the Raiders. The win from Choctaw High School snapped a three-game skid against Navarre.

Stats were unavailable.

Booker T. Washington plays Niceville at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. Later that night, the Raiders play at host Choctaw.

Gulf Breeze 47, West Florida 41

For the third time in the last four years, the Dolphins have started a season with a victory after collecting a road win against the Jaguars.

Stats were unavailable.

Gulf Breeze returns to the court on Nov. 29 when it plays at Pensacola.

Pine Forest 44, Crestview 38

The Eagles started its season with a quality road win over a quality opponent in the Bulldogs.

Stats were unavailable.

Pine Forest next plays on Nov. 30 at North Miami Beach.

Pensacola 65, Spanish Fort (Ala.) 43

Winning every quarter, the Tigers pulled away for a strong season-opening victory over the Toros from Gulf Shores High School.

Pensacola had its strongest quarter in the first, outscoring Spanish Fort 18-9.

Stats were unavailable.

The Tigers play at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at Clarke County (Ala.).

Pace 61, Baldwin County (Ala.) 22

The Patriots entered the win column after breezing past the Tigers at home.

Stats were unavailable.

Pace is host to West Florida at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Freeport 73, Pensacola Catholic 55

The Crusaders remain in search of their first victory of the season after falling on the road to the Bulldogs.

Stats were unavailable.

Pensacola Catholic plays at 6 p.m. Monday at L.E.A.D. Academy.

Pensacola Christian Academy 52, West Florida Baptist Academy 34

The host Warriors blasted past the Conquerors thanks to a strong second half.

Trailing 23-15 at the half, PCA outscored WFBA 15-3 in the third quarter and 22-8 in the fourth to march to victory.

Stats were unavailable for Pensacola Christian Academy. Makenna Enfinger and Olivia Pearce each dropped eight points for West Florida Baptist Academy. Pearce added nine rebounds.

The Warriors play on Nov. 28 at Lighthouse Baptist Academy (Ala.). The Conquerors aim to rebound at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Central.

Patrick Bernadeau is a sports reporter for the Pensacola News Journal. He can be reached at (772) 985-9692, on X at @PatBernadeau or via email at

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