Practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect
Giving yourself permission to lose guarantees a loss
The will to succeed is important, but what's more important is the will to prepare
There are only two options regarding commitment. You're either IN or you're OUT. There's no such thi
Sharks Fall to Matanzas in District Opener
For the second time in three seasons, the Sharks were a one and done in tournament play, following their 51-48 setback at the hands of a scrappy Matnzas five.
For the second game in a row the Sharks made a late fourth quarter comeback, only to once again fall just short of escaping with a victory.
Trailing 45-35 with 3:30 remaining in the contest the Sharks mounted a furious comeback to pull within one point with a minute remaining.
The Sharks even had a chance to pull out a victory with the ball in their hands with 7 seconds remaining, but a Reese Russi layup missed its mark and Matanzas now moves into the district finals.
However, it was Russi who came off the bench to energize the Sharks with his defense and a couple of clutch baskets that gave hope to Ponte Vedra.
Russi came up with a crucial block that led to a made JD Pirris 3 pointer that drew the Sharks within 7. Russi then canned a 3 pointer from the corner and now the Sharks were within 4 points of the Pirates.
Chris Tomacewski blocked what appeared to be a certain Matanzas layup that put the ball back in the hands of the Sharks. Moments later Tomacewski hit a 3 pointer from the same spot on the court that Russi made his shot earlier to pull the Sharks within one.
Christian Harrison then hit from short range to push the Matanzas lead back to 3. The Sharks were guilty of a charging call but a PV steal led to a JD Pirris bucket that again cut the lead to a single point.
Using a half court trapping defense the Sharks came up with a steal and Russi made a layup in heavy traffic to again make it a one point game.
However, Lady Luck was not with the Sharks down the end and Matanzas breathed a sigh of relief when Russi's heroic attempt for the game winner just missed its mark.
Once again the Sharks were unable to contain the inside presence of Matanzas junior center Greg Layne, who led all scorers with 27 points. Christian Harrison with 11 points was also in double figures for Matanzas as the 1-2 duo made all their shots from short range.
JD Pirris ended his stellar career with a game high 19 points in the losing cause. With a few of his key starters having sub par games, coach Bud Beech went to his bench and got some great help from a number of his underclassmen, which bodes well for the future of PVHS basketball.
As mentioned above, sophomore Reese Russi showed no fear against the very athletic Pirates.
Another pair of sophomores also played well for the losing Sharks. 6-5 Luke Martin twice stopped a pair of long Matanzas runs with important baskets, while Ben Houser was on the floor in the game's closing moments, and although Houser didn't score, he came through with a couple of key steals and a block shot during crunch time.
The Sharks end their season with a winning 15-11 record, but undoubtably were disappointed that they fell well short of matching last year's varsity team that advanced to the final 8.
After losing to Ponte Vedra in 2014 & 2016 as the head coach of Palatka, first year Matanzas head coach Donald Lockhart finally pulled off a well earned victory against his friendly rivals.
Sharks Begin Playoffs Wednesday at Palatka
SHARKS AGAIN END REGULAR SEASON AT 15-10
The Ponte Vedra Sharks will end their regular season with the same record as posted a year ago following the 55-50 loss to arch rival Nease on Friday night.
With only one member of last year’s Regional Finalist team lost through graduation (Matt Johnson), surely more was expected from this year’s veteran squad.
However, no one could have expected the rash of injuries and sickness that will now be a part of this team’s legacy. Hopefully, the next few days off, before they begin the playoffs Wednesday night, will help the Sharks heal their wounds.
The Sharks got off to a great start last week with a pair of victories against some worthy opponents before Friday’s season ending crushing overtime loss against Nease.
With only 6 healthy bodies able to play against neighboring Fletcher High School on the last day of January, coach Bud Beech was somehow able to find the perfect band-aid in defeating an athletic Senators team 71-63. Beech went deep into his reserves and came up with three players who delivered season highs in the victory.
Seniors Lance Kren and Dean McCarthy had their best scoring outputs of the session with 15 and 13 points respectively, with McCarthy also grabbing 11 valuable rebounds.
Playing the entire 32 minutes, Eston Hensley and Chris Tomacewski came up big with Hensley pouring in a game high 22 points and 6 steals and Tomacewski 10 points & 9 rebounds.
Andrew Matthis played by far his most minutes of the season and played very well when a number of Sharks got into foul trouble. Matthis scored one field goal in the game, his only field goal of the entire season.
Thursday night the Sharks traveled to Baker County to play in a venue that has always proved very difficult to come away with a victory. After the Sharks struggled in the early going, falling behind 14-4 after the first 8 minutes of action, the flu riddled Sharks battled back to shock the hosts.
Ponte Vedra more than welcomed the return of star guard JD Pirris, who sat out the Tuesday night game with Fletcher with an ankle sprain. Pirris, unfazed by the raucous Baker County crowd, lit up the stat sheet. JD tallied a game high 23 points, pulled down 8 rebounds, garnered 6 assists, and swiped 4 steals.
The Sharks got another big night from Hensley who was a monster on the boards with 12 rebounds while also chipping in 17 points. Lance Kren came up with his second consecutive double digit game with 11 points.
Less than 24 hours later the Sharks faced their arch rivals from Nease as a near capacity crowd packed the Shark Tank at the high school.
Nease played an inspired and near perfect 30 minutes of basketball against the still short handed Sharks, and apparently were on their way to a convincing victory as they led the Sharks by a commanding 44-34 margin with less than 2 minutes remaining.
The Sharks then employed a go for broke full court press on the visiting Panthers, culminating in turnovers and made baskets for Ponte Vedra. When JD Pirris made another one of his patented driving layups to tie up the game at 44-44 with but 7 seconds remaining, never had the noise level been higher at the PVHS gymnasium.
When an ailing Jack Shannon bravely took a charge against star Panther player Sam Guenther, it appeared all the momentum was on Ponte Vedra’s favor heading into the 4 minute overtime period.
Guenther had been a thorn in the side all game long against the Sharks by pouring in 25 points.
And when 6’6 shot blocked Aaron Cochrane joined Guenther on the bench with five fouls, it appeared bleak indeed for the large contingent of Nease followers.
After closing out the remaining moments in regulation with their stifling defense, the Sharks took the foot off the gas pedal during the overtime period.
Ironically it was a player who prepped but two season’s back at Ponte Vedra High that came to the rescue for Nease. Senior Addison Shaw, who played on the Ponte Vedra JV team two years ago, made a huge 3 pointer 1 minute into the overtime period that gave the lead to Nease at 47-44.
Ponte Vedra, who ended the the final moments of regulation on fire, then went into a deep freeze and began hastily firing up three point shots that consistently missed their mark.
Forced to foul, the Panthers Shaw and Ethan Ilagan made the Sharks pay by calmly netting 6 consecutive free throws to seal the Shark’s fate. A couple of late field goals by JD Pirris kept the Sharks close, but in the end, it was the jubilant Panther rooters who stormed the court, ignoring the pleas from venerable Shark PA announcer Ross Byers to “Please stay off the Court!”
The entertaining contest showcased the talents of two of the best players in St. Johns County in the Panthers Guenther and the Sharks Pirris. Guenther tallied 25 points and his 16 points at the halftime break were more than the Sharks team total of 15.
Pirris was brilliant again in the losing cause equaling his career high of 28 points but received little help from his mates,
The Sharks clearly missed the presence of a pair of their big men against Nease but hopefully the next few days off will be beneficial in their recovery from the flu. 6’6 Jack Johnson, who has missed the last three games, was in street clothes on the bench against Nease, but looked as pale as Casper the Ghost.
6’6 Luke Martin was also idle last week while 6’3 sophomore Ben Hauser was only healthy enough to play limited minutes Friday night.
The Sharks 15-10 record to end the regular season mirrors last season’s mark as they journey to Palatka on Wednesday night to play the winner of Monday’s matchup between Menendez and Matanzas, a pair of teams who split the pair of games earlier this season.
Sharks Bid Adieu To Talented Senior Class
Unlike last season when Coach Beech only had to replace but two seniors, such will certainly not be the case when he initiates roll call for the start of the 2017-18 school year.
Although the cupboard will not be bare for the immediate future, what with some promising returnees from the current varsity, as well as a number of stalwarts from the Junior Varsity squad, it goes without saying that this year’s seniors will be difficult to replace.
Here is a look at your 2017 PVHS graduates who will soon be playing in their final high basketball game for the Ponte Vedra Sharks:
# 10 Noah Bunkosky
It’s too bad Noah doesn’t have another year of eligibility remaining. Outside of JD Pirris and Mike Nicandri, there may not be a better ball handler than Noah. Bunkosky was so unknown by this author that I went the entire year misspelling his name.
It is very common for seniors who see very little action to sulk on the sidelines at their lack of playing time but this certainly was not the case for Bunkosky.
Coach Beech: “During tryouts, I noticed how fast Noah could play and how well he defended. He also was very coachable and was always appreciative of the opportunity. He increased the competitive level of our practices and I’m so glad he was a part of this year’s team.”
#23 Eston Hensley
Eston Hensley will end his career as the 5th leading scorer in PVHS history, not bad for a player who was nothing more than a reserve just two years ago on the Junior Varsity.
Hensley’s game as improved so much over the past two seasons that, if one had to name an all time Ponte Vedra basketball team, it would be hard to leave Eston’s name off that list.
Hensley is perhaps the most athletic of all the current Shark players, with good hands, a strong body, and great leaping ability. Although Hensley's long three pointers often take on the rotation similar to a Hoyt Wilheam knuckerball (this writer is clearly dating himself), his long bombs have found the bottom of the net nearly 40 per cent of the time.
When this Shark season, as well as Hensley’s career comes to an end, Eston will be up in the upper echelon of Shark players in numerous categories. One area that Eston has needed to improve his game most may have been solved of late. During much of his two years as a varsity performer, Hensley has been hesitant to utilize his quickness, strength and well above average ball handling skills with drives to the basket. If the talented Hensley can add this skill to his already rosy resume, there is little doubt that he can play basketball at the college level next year.
Coach Beech: “Eston is a great example of someone that did the work required to become a very good player. Seldom did he miss an opportunity to be in the gym! A good athlete with an instinct to rebound and get open shots. For this reason he is one of our leading scorers and rebounders the past two season. I really enjoyed coaching Eston and watching him achieve the accomplishments he deserves over his career at PVHS.”
#35 Lance Kren
Lance Kren will end his career at Ponte Vedra perhaps best know as your quintessential streak shooter. As a starter on the JV team in his first two years at Ponte Vedra, Kren was a 6’1 post player. However, Kren remained at nearly the same height for his final two years and was forced to change his game from a post player to one who could muster the most damage from out court.
However, with the rise to stardom from teammates Jack Shannon and Eston Hensley, and the recent resurgence from 6’8 junior Jack Johnson, Lance’s playing time has diminished in his senior year.
Kren during his junior season played a role similar to that played by former Shark player Kellen Wilson. Although undersized for a center, he was often called upon to play a similar role to Wilson as a 6’1 post player. Lance had a number of games where he reached double figures in the scoring column, with a most memorable 22 point performance in a Shark victory over Menendez where he made 6 three pointers, tied for second in PVHS history.
Kren has graciously accepted his reduced role this year while still giving an all out effort when he appears on the court. When called upon to deliver, one needs to look no further back then to Tuesday’s game with Fletcher when Kren came through with 15 points and a number of rebounds.
Coach Beech: “Lance has swung the momentum in many games with his ability to knock down “3s” anywhere on the court. Under sized for his position, he still defended and rebounded the ball due to his hustle and desire on the court. Lance is an outstanding young man that always cared more about the team. A joy to coach!”
# 23 Dean McCarthy:
Dean McCarthy is Ponte Vedra’s answer to the Energy Bunny. With his motor always racing, often times over the speed limit, McCarthy has been a valuable contributor to the Shark’s good fortune during his two year varsity career.
Dean’s playing time has been set back somewhat by having to miss all of the Ponte Vedra basketball games the past two season that took place over the Holiday break. Dean would accompany his family for their annual trip back to their native land of Ireland and it would take him some additional time to get back in his basketball groove.
McCarthy always give 110% when pressed into action by coach Beech and is always on alert to play some solid defense. McCarthy shows no fear out on the court and is never hesitant to fire away from behind the three point arc. Unfortunately, Dean has not been accurate with his long range shots, but has done a nice job lately of moving without the ball where his teammates have found McCarthy slashing to the basket for much easier layups.
McCarthy logged a lot of minutes in Ponte Vedra’s recent win over a very good Fletcher team and played a pivotal role in the much needed victory. Always appearing to having a gusto attitude on the court, the 6’2 senior could play a key role down the stretch before his Shark career comes to a close.
Coach Beech: “Describing Dean as a player with high energy would be an understatement! I don’t ever remember Dean not going full speed in a game. We like to play fast and this is the reason we put him on the floor. He is a quick defensive player with the ability to get to the rim on offense. Dean is definitely another player who has been fun to coach over his high school years!
# 4 Mike Nicandri (Captain)
Mike Nicandri’s spirited high school career came to an end much sooner than he, his coach, and Shark fans would have liked when he incurred a season ending knee injury in a recent game against Bolles.
Nicandri’s role as a ball handler and team leader will be hard to replace as this season draws to a close. His loss denies Ponte Vedra a much needed ball handler to take the pressure off JD Pirris.
However, the 5’7 dynamo will leave a lasting impression on his teammates for the role that he has filled during his two years on the varsity. Two games especially stand out in this author's look back on the past season.
While Ponte Vedra’s football team was playing in the state championship on Friday December 9, the prospects looked gloomy for a Shark basketball victory that very same evening against perennial power Palatka.
Playing without JD Pirris, it was up to Nicandri to step up and fill JD’s role of breaking Palatka’s smothering full court pressure defense. The pint size senior came up big in the narrow victory with his deft ball handling and defensively coming up with 6 much needed steals.
In the Shark's come from behind victory against arch rival Nease, Nicandri was called upon by Coach Beech to come off the bench early and put the clamps on a Neese player who scored a quick 8 points before the game was but a couple of minutes old. Nicandri shut down the Panther guard without a basket made the rest of the contest.
Coach Beech: “Mike’s presence on the court throughout his career was quickly noticed by everyone. Few players are capable of playing at the speed and with determination he displayed during a game. Over the years his humor and connection with teammates and coaches have made him a team leader. Injuries in the second half of his junior and senior year were difficult and untimely, yet, his loyalty to the team and friends continued throughout the season.”
# 1 JD Pirris (Captain)
Although JD is a long-shot to become the fourth Ponte Vedra player to surpass the 1,000 point barrier, only an often maligned FHSAA scheduling system, one that results in sports overlapping one another, could prevent this multi-sport star from accomplishing this rare feat.
However, scoring points doesn’t even begin to register the true value to Ponte Vedra basketball for JD Pirris. Although listed at 6’1, Pirris was a dominant rebounder, pulling down more then 200 rebounds in a single season in his junior season. Pirris will rank near the top of the PVHS career leader board in a number of categories: Steals, assists, free throws made, as well as in the aforementioned scoring and rebounding departments.
However, there his one major Pirris attribute that does not show up in any statistical category: Ball Handling. Coach Beech will be hard pressed to find a future Shark that can replace JD in taking care of the ball against constant pressure.
Its safe to say this proud program has never seen a player that possesses JDs skill and intense desire to take the ball to the rim. It’s probable, at this point in his career, JD will continue his athletic career at the Division 1 level, not in basketball, but football, where Pirris had more than 1,000 career receiving yards in leading PVHS all the way to the state football finals.
Coach Beech: “J.D. has developed into one of the best point guards in the area during his three season on Varsity. Off the court; quiet, calm, respectful, appreciative, and during the game he’s a fierce competitor and a player that makes his teammates better.”
# 11 Jack Shannon:
From often being the last player coming off the bench on the JV team to ending his career as one of the all time top players in Shark history, Jack Shannon’s outstanding basketball career would have been inconceivable just two year’s ago.
If the powers to be ever come up with an award for the most improved player—- they could name it the Jack Shannon Most Improved Player Award.
Shannon has played his role to near perfection this season. When the deadly shooter gets the ball with some open space, he fires away. And nearly 50% of the time the results are 3 points for Ponte Vedra. When the space is not there Shannon has shown great maturity by not forcing a bad shot. An area where Shannon has shown perhaps the most improvement this year has been his ability to put the ball on the floor and slice his way to the basket, resulting in many more foul shots.
Over the course of the 30 game season in 2016-16 Shannon only went to the free thrown line but 23 times. During the present season, Shannon has already more than doubled that total in but 21 games where his proficiency from the free throw line has been uncanny. Such is Shannon’s shooting skills, he is currently at the top of the leader board in the entire First Coast area in free show and 3-point shooting percentage.
Coach Beech: “Jack went from 3rd string on JV his sophomore year to a starter his Junior and Senior season on Varsity. Like most players that exhibit this type of improvement, the reason is he shows up! He took advantage of as many opportunities he could to get in the gym and improve his game and worked very hard. Jack is an outstanding 3 point shooter, along with being a player that can now impact the game in many other ways. It was great to have the opportunity to coach such a dedicated player.”
#13 Chris Tomacewski:
Chris Tomacewski will cap his Shark career as one of the most popular players ever to don the Ponte Vedra uniform. And how this athletic and tireless player loves to play on the big stage! Fans of Nease High School will not soon forget how it was Tomacewski who was the hero in both Shark victories at Nease the past two seasons.
Chris followed up his outstanding effort in the win over Nease his junior season with an even more dramatic performance as a senior. With 7 seconds remaining and the game all even, Tomacewski came through jn the clutch by taking a deft pass from JD Pirris and banking in a reverse layup to send the large Shark fans into a frenzy with his game winning shot.
Tomacewski has merited a number of nicknames for his dossier’ — Mr. Clutch for one, and The Panther Killer for yet another. Every team should be so fortunate to have a team oriented performer like Chris Tomacewski on one’s roster.
Coach Beech: “Chris has been a key player on all the teams he has played for during his JV and Varsity career. He is always one of the best defenders, along with having big offensive numbers in crucial games. He is a great person to have on a team, always making practices and long bus rides fun and entertaining. His athleticism will be impossible to replace. Johnny C. coming up from JV might try to replace the entertainment part!”
Sharks Hope to Lick Their Wounds in Final Week of the Season
It was a topsy-turvy week this past week for the Ponte Vedra basketball team. There was some good, some bad, and the week concluded with a big question mark as coach Bud Beech’s Sharks head into the final week of the regular season.
The Sharks enjoyed a rare home game played this past Wednesday when they made amends for an earlier 21 point blowout loss on the road at Bartram Trail with a well earned 74-67 win over the always competitive Bears.
However, the two games played on the road were less than rosy for the locals. A day earlier, the Sharks played one of their poorest games of the season in a narrow two point 43-41 loss to Clay Co, the first win ever for the Blue Devils over Ponte Vedra in basketball.
It appeared that Ponte Vedra was again going to hold the whammy over the host Blue Devils when they raced out to an early 11-1 lead. The Blue Devils took control of the contest for the next two quarters as the Sharks were only able to score 3 points in the pivotal third quarter.
Shaking off his rust after missing the previous five games, Pirris kept the Sharks close to the Blue Devils by scoring 10 of his game high 16 points in the final quarter.
Despite their district loss to Clay, the Sharks will still enter the upcoming playoffs beginning February 7 in Palatka, as the districts No. 1 seed. Ponte Vedra will open up the tourney at 6:00 PM against the winner of the February 6 game between Menendez and Matanzas.
The Sharks recovered quickly the following evening after the loss to Clay when they returned to the Shark Tank for only the second time in 14 games. Eston Hensley lit up the scoreboard in the first quarter when he ripped the nets for 14 points as the Sharks raced out to an early lead and never looked back.
Hensley would finish the evening with a career high 25 points while Pirris was close behind with 23. Coach Beech received a big lift from his 6’8 junior center Jack Johnson in the Bartram win with 9 points and 7 blocked shots.
Friday’s loss at Providence to the area’s top rated team was certainly not unexpected, but their poor shooting and sloppy passing were the least of their concerns in the defeat. Three year starting guard JD Pirris, while frustrated with his driving layups that agonizingly would hang on the rim before falling into the waiting arms of a Stallion player, left the game with a sprained ankle in the third quarter leaving his status for this week, and the upcoming playoffs, up in the air.
The Shark duo, who combined for 48 points in Wednesday’s victory over Bolles, had a complete 180 reversal against Providence where they paired up to make but 2-19 of their two point shot attempts.
It was clear that many of the Sharks were either intimidated, or in awe of the tall and talented Stallions, coached by Jim Martin, the coach for prep basketball’s most prestigious post season game at the McDonald’s classic. Providence was led in scoring by former Menendez player Zachary ‘Scooty’ Bryant, this year’s odds on favorite to take home player of the year honors for the First Coast.
The Sharks now will take their still impressive 13-9 overall record into this weeks final 3 regular season contests beginning with Tuesday’s home game against neighboring Fletcher High.
Following a Thursday road trip west on Interstate 10 to play a very good Baker County five, the Sharks will play their final home game of the season Friday night, in front of what surely will be a packed and enthusiastic crowd when they host arch rival Nease.
Sharks Hoping to Peak as Regular Season End Nears
The return to the lineup of leading scorer JD Pirris will be most welcomed by the Ponte Vedra Sharks this week.
With Pirris on the court the Sharks can boast of a 8-1 record as the All-Area performer returns to action Tuesday night when Ponte Vedra travels to Clay Co. It will be a busy week for the Sharks as they finally return to their home court for a return engagement with Bartram Trail on Wednesday, January 25.
On Friday the ‘Beech Boys’ will have the daunting task of defeating the First Coasts No. 1 ranked team when they play at perennial power Providence High.
The return to action by Pirris can come none too soon for Ponte Vedra as only six games remain in the regular season before the PHSAA playoffs begin on February 7th in Palatka.
Although the Shark’s were shorthanded without the services of senior point guard Mike Nicandri and Pirris, coach Beech had to be pleased with the improvement shown by a number of his Shark players.
In the Shark’s loss on January 19 at always tough Bishop Kenny, Beech saw one of his three sophomores, Ben Houser, score a career high 12 points in a 83-69 loss to the Crusaders. 6’5 Sophomore center Luke Martin demonstrated that he could become a major contributor during the upcoming playoffs with a fine showing in their losing cause at Matanzas. A very aggressive Martin tossed in 13 points while yet another promising sophomore, Reese Russi, has played very well of late after moving into a starting guard position.
The Sharks began the week with a 61-53 district win over Menendez, avenging an earlier loss to the Falcons in early December. The win also guarantees the Shark’s the number one seed in the upcoming playoffs.
With the score all even at 25-25 at halftime, the Sharks outscored the hosts 19-8 in the third period and then withstood a late Menendez rally to post their 13th win of the season against but 5 defeats. Senior Eston Hensley and Russi led the charge in the third quarter by scoring 14 of the Shark's 19 tallies.
In their next game at Bishop Kenny the Sharks were unlucky to face the 2016 state finalist at the top of their game. In the loss to BK, the Sharks gave up the most points scored against them all season. Ponte Vedra did hold a short lived lead at 25-24 early into the second quarter, only to let their guard down as Bishop Kenny went on a decisive 13-3 run en route to a 83-69 defeat of the Sharks.
The Sharks had to be well aware that they would have tough sledding against a vastly improved Matanzas team that dropped their earlier game at the Sharks 70-64. However, playing without the services of Pirris, who netted 23 points in that first contest, an inspired Matanzas team jumped out to an early 11-0 lead en route to the victory.
The Sharks were able to regroup, thanks to a 21-11 third quarter, to narrow the gap to 47-43 heading into the final quarter. However, the well-coached Matanzas squad never lost their poise as they netted 14 of their 20 fourth quarter points at the free throw line to hold off the Sharks.
After playing 13 of their last 14 games away from the Shark Tank, the Sharks will welcome their return home on Wednesday when they have a return engagement with Bartram Trail. Prior to their visit from Bartram the Sharks have high hopes of taking undisputed possession of the top seed in district play with a victory at Clay. A loss would drop the Sharks into a tie with Palatka, each with a 5-3 record. However, the Sharks would earn the top seed as they defeated Palatka twice during the regular season.
A bright spot for the Sharks over the past few games has been the consistent play from 6’0 senior Jack Shannon. Shannon, who languished on the bench throughout his sophomore season on the Junior Varsity, has improved his game to the point where he will soon finish among the all time leaders in Shark history.
Shannon has scored in double figures in each of his last 5 games, including a 20 point performance in the losing cause at Matanzas. Shannon has added another element to his game, complementing his outstanding shooting from 3 point land with slashing moves to the basket that often finds him then shooting free throws.
With Shannon playing at the top of his game, and with the improved play from his young sophomores, the Sharks have high hopes of peaking at the right time as tournament time rapidly approaches.
Shark JVs Enjoy Another Banner Season
It has now become conventional that one could expect Ponte Vedra to again experience another winning season for their Junior Varsity basketball team, but with three underclassmen playing varsity basketball, expectations should have been lowered for this year’s squad.
However, the 2016-17 edition of JV basketball is on pace to have the highest winning percentage in the school’s brief nine year history.
Winners of 13 of their first 14 games is impressive, but their overwhelming margin of victory over their opponents is off the charts. The Sharks have outscored their foes by 30 points per ball game, scoring 885 points while limiting their competitors to but 456.
The only blemish on their record came very early in the season when they were defeated by Palatka 71-68. However, the Sharks had a legitimate excuse for this lone setback when they played without the services of two of their regulars. Kyle Barker and Nick Pirris, two of the top three scorers on the current Shark squad, missed the first contest as they were playing in the state championship football game earlier that afternoon.
When these two teams next faced each other on Friday the 13th in Palatka, the Sharks more than made up for that blot on their record when they pummeled Palatka 63-41 with Barker and Pirris combining for 23 points.
The team is once again mentored by former University of North Florida stalwart Parker Smith. Smith, who was the coach of the Shark JV team two years ago that won 20 games, took a sabbatical last year to play basketball professionally overseas. And once again the former UNF sharpshooter is on pace to guide his team to another 20 win season.
Although the Sharks have tallied a more than respectable average of more than 62 points per game, it’s perhaps their stingy defense that will draw the most rave reviews. The defense, while giving up a minuscule 30 points per contest, has averaged a remarkable 15 steals per game.
When asked how he could briefly describe the reason for this team’s success, coach Smith quickly responded: “ By playing fast.” Smith also added “I am really proud of how unselfish this team has played this year. I never have to tell them that they should make an extra pass.”
Yet another key to this year’s team success has been their depth. Smith, on a number of occasions has not hesitated to bring in five fresh players at a time, with the quality of play hardly skipping a beat.
Barker leads the Sharks in scoring at a modest 13 points per game, with sophomore guard Johnny Corlazzoli the only other Shark averaging in double figures by scoring at a 12 ppg. clip.
Sophomores Barker, Corlazzoli, and Pirris have been the three most productive players but Smith has received some quality play from a number of his young freshmen. 6’4 Joey DePorre is the tallest member of the Sharks and shows promise of providing future Shark varsity squads another valuable big man. DePorre has started most of the games this season on a starting five that includes the three aforementioned sophomores and yet another 10th grader Logan Conway.
Another sophomore on the roster is Brendan Duffy, who before being sidelined for much of the season with a knee injury, started a number of games.
The rest of the roster, comprised of freshmen Matt Barnhorst, Cole Gleckler, Dylan Hess, Peyton Thompson, Sebastian Rothman, Scott Hahnemann and James Kohnke have all had outings where they have made major contributions for the Sharks.
Over the last 4 seasons the Sharks have compiled an enviable record of 65 wins as opposed to but 13 defeats. However, one must recognize that the most important role for a JV team is to development players to perform at the varsity level. Any current player who is fighting for playing time should not be discouraged with his lack of minutes at the JV level as this does not always translate into playing time on the varsity.
One only has to look at the JV team from two seasons back to find the perfect example. Coach Smith’s 2014-15 team won the most games in school history (20) and yet none of the players who were starters on that team are current starters for this year’s varsity team.
One of the last players off the bench from that 20-4 team was Jack Shannon. Through hard work during the off season Jack improved his game to such a degree that, when his senior career is completed, Shannon is on track to become one of the top 8 scorers all time in PVHS history.
Another non regular from that same JV team from two years back is Eston Hensley. Eston has transformed his game where he too will be near the top of the career leader board in several categories and has possibly set himself up for a shot at the next level.
Yet another late bloomer from that 2014-15 team was a gangly freshman—- Jack Johnson. Now 6-8, the junior center has become a fixture as a varsity starter and has become one of the premier shot blockers on the First Coast.
“It always intrigues me to see who improves the most from their freshmen year to their later years in high school,” said the highly respected coach Smith. “Jack (Shannon) and Eston (Hensley) are the perfect example of guys who put in the extra work in the off season to get better.”
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a couple of other non-starters from the 2014-15 JV squad. Who could have ever envisioned that Parker Smith’s team from two years back could boast of a Mr. Football as well as another player who.would be be a First Team pre-season All-American after transferring to a school in Texas? Of course, I’m referring to Nick Tronti and Ke’von Ahmaud who we will surely be watching for the next few years on National Television.
A few tough opponents still lie ahead before the current JV season comes to a close, but coach Parker Smith’s youngsters are up for the challenge. Local fans still have three home games left to watch these future Sharks in action, with the next home game set for Wednesday, January 25th when they host Bartram Trail at 6:00 PM.
Sharks begin Week Leading in District Play
Sharks win Two of Three against Strong Foes
Faced with the prospect of playing three of their toughest opponents this past week, Ponte Vedra fans had to be pleased that the Sharks emerged victorious in two of those battles.
Sandwiched between a pair of victories over Bolles and Palatka was a tightly contested loss to one of the area’s top ranked team, the Creekside Knights. The Sharks survived the week despite losing a pair of their best players.
Senior guard Mike Nicandri suffered a knee injury during Tuesday’s victory over Bolles and will be sidelined for the remainder of the season. It was a double whammy at the guard position for the Sharks as starting guard Will Mons likewise had a season ending knee injury early into this campaign.
Leading scorer JD Pirris is scheduled to return to the lineup after this week’s trio of games and will be a most welcome addition for the injury riddled Sharks.
Overcoming these drawbacks, the Sharks were able to hold off Palatka on Friday night to improve their overall record to an impressive 11-5 and a district leading 4-1.
The Sharks enjoyed a seemingly comfortable 11 point lead in Friday’s always interesting road trip to Palatka. Unlike last year, when Palatka's tenacious full court pressure defense turned into a Panther home win, such was not the case this year.
The Sharks led 46-35 heading into the final quarter before Palatka went on a furious rally. With some questionable home cooking from the men in stripes, Palatka outscored the Sharks by 10 points, but fell one point short of overtaking the Sharks.
The Shark district win over Palatka now sets up an important rematch on Tuesday, Jan 17 when the Sharks travel to Menendez. A PVHS victory would give the Sharks a two game lead over their closest challenger in district seedings and would atone for their only district loss incurred from an earlier meeting at the Shark Tank.
In their only home game of a quirky schedule that will find Ponte Vedra playing but one home game as opposed to 13 on the road, the Sharks surprised the defending State Champions from Bolles with a convincing 77-47 victory in front of a large crowd at the Shark Tank.
The Sharks, after leading 27-20 at halftime, played perhaps their best half of basketball on the season by exploding for 50 second half points to run way from Bolles. Pirris led a balanced attack for the Sharks with a game high 21 points while pulling down 11 rebounds and dishing out 5 assists.
Eston Hensley continued his great play with 15 points while 6-8 junior center Jack Johnson chipped in with 8 points. Johnson also was a domineering factor on defense by blocking 4 shots and altering a number of other errant Bolles attempts.
The Sharks took the short jaunt to nearby Creekside last Thursday as huge underdogs to a Knight team with a lofty state ranking. In the first game of the season the Sharks were man handled by Creekside 69-41, and Knight fans expected more of the same in the rematch.
However, the Sharks, playing without Mons, Nicandri, and Pirris gave the Knights a real scare before running out of gas in the game’s final moments. The Sharks trailed by only two points late into the third period before the Knights were finally able to put away from the shorthanded, but gritty, Sharks.
Several of the Sharks stepped up nicely for Coach Bud Beech's crew, led by Jack Shannon with a team high 17 points. Junior center Jack Johnson continued his improved play with 11 while sophomore guard Reese Russi, forced to log a lot of minutes with the Sharks missing three of their guards, added 10 points to compliment his 5 rebounds and 4 steals.
Eston Hensley, who drew a crowd of Knights throughout the contest, was the fourth Shark to reach double figures with 10 points, all coming in the first half.
The most important game during this week’s busy stretch of games was PV’s tight victory over Palatka. Playing in a Panther gym, where the Sharks had but one win (2014) in school history, the 53-52 conquest of Palatka saw several Sharks make major contributions.
Jack Shannon led all Shark scorers for the second straight game with a team high 16 points and a team high 6 assists. Sophomore Reese Russi was close behind with a career high 14 points while Jack Johnson was a dominant force on the defensive end of the court. The still improving Johnson scored 10 points but that didn’t begin to account for his most important role.
The 6’8 junior, with a long wingspan, blocked 8 Palatka shots to equal his own school record that he set a year earlier, also against the Panthers.
After Tuesday’s important district game with Menendez, the opposition doesn’t get any easier for ‘The Beech Boys.’ The Sharks will play Thursday against an always competitive Bishop Kenny team that were state runner-ups last season. Less than 24 hours later PVHS will again hit the road to play a district game against a much improved and well-coached Matanzas five.
'Beech Boys' return home Tuesday to play defending State Champs
One would be hard pressed to pen a better script for the Ponte Vedra Varsity Basketball Team for their efforts during the long Holiday break.
Winners of five straight games, all on the road, there were highlights galore for the Sharks during the streak. On Wednesday, January 4, the Sharks earned their beloved head coach Bud Beech his 500th career win with a 53-48 victory over Westside at Ribault High School.
Only a slim turnout of Shark faithful were in attendance to witness Beech’s milestone accomplishment for win number 500, but that was certainly not the case for win number 501.
Before another packed and spirited throng of rooters for both teams on Friday January 6, the Sharks concluded their holiday journey with a thrilling 55-53 comeback victory against arch rival Nease.
The Sharks were a mediocre 2-3 to begin this season while waiting on the return to their roster of a pair of starters who were instrumental in the huge success of the PVHS football state runner-ups.
Since senior JD Pirris and sophomore Reese Russi returned to the starting lineup, the Sharks have won 7 of their last 8 games to improve their season record to an impressive 9-4.
The only blip during that streak was their opening round defeat at the hands of Flagler Palm Coast when the Sharks had an uncharacteristic poor shooting night. However, it took the ‘Beech Boys’ less than 24 hours to regain their shooting touch as four PVHS players reached double figures in their 65-56 win over Savannah (GA) Windsor Forest.
The following day showed why the Sharks had missed the services of Pirris and Russi when the backcourt pair teamed up for a combined 28 points in a 74-64 victory over Crescent City.
A pair of Nassau County opponents were the next to fall at the hands of the Sharks.The Sharks romped to a convincing 68-44 win over Baldwin High with Pirris (18) Eston Hensley (13) and Mike Nicandri (11) all in double figures. The Baldwin victory pushed Beech’s career win total to 499 heading into the next afternoon’s game vs. Westside.
Playing hard for their veteran mentor, the Sharks took a commanding 46-29 lead into the final quarter before outlasting a belated Westside charge to prevail 53-48.
Although win number 500 had to be very satisfying for Beech, win number 501 vs. arch rival Nease was even better.
As per any PVHS-Nease basketball game, the win didn’t come easy. The Sharks trailed by 5 points with less than two minutes remaining in the contest before embarking on their closing rally.
Trailing 53-48 with 1:36 left in the contest, and the Panthers in possession of the ball, the Sharks fought back. Eston Hensley drilled a two pointer to cut the Panther lead to 3.
After forcing a Panther turnover, Ponte Vedra's JD Pirris connected to trim the deficit to a single point.
However, Nease was still in charge and were attempting to run out the clock. Yet another Nease turnover gave the Sharks a chance to take the lead with but 0:16 showing on the clock.
JD Pirris then took charge and began one of his patented drives to the basket. The veteran senior guard, after drawing a double team, dished a pass under the hoop to a cutting Chris Tomacewski.
The 'Panther Killer' Tomacewski made the reverse layup to give the Sharks the lead, and then made it a two point margin when he made the free throw after being fouled. Nease was unable to answer and the Shark's stormed the visitors court in celebrating the victory.
Pirris had a monster game for the victors. JD led Shark scorers with 20 points but, even more important than his scoring, was his work elsewhere. Although listed as a point guard, Pirris led the team in rebounds with 9 and in assists with 8.
Eston Hensley continued his great play with 13 points, 6 of those coming in the clutch in the game's final quarter while Tomacewski came off the bench to score 12.
To keep the winning streak alive this week, however, will be a formidable task. The Sharks return to their home court Tuesday after 7 games on the road when they host the defending Division 4 state champions, the Bolles Bulldogs.
Thursday the Sharks hit the road again where they will play a Creekside team that could very well challenge for a state championship this season. On Friday (Jan 13) the Sharks will travel to Palatka where they have only one road victory (2014) in school history.
Only the Palatka contest will be a district game. The Sharks control their own destiny to secure the top seed in the forthcoming FHSAA playoffs with 3-1 record. Palatka is close behind the Sharks with a 3-2 mark in district play and will be out to make amends for their earlier 84-82 loss contested in December at the Shark Tank.
At the halfway point in the season the Sharks have received some consistent play from Seniors Pirris and Hensley. The veteran pair have stamped themselves as two of the better players in the entire area and rank 1-2 in all the major statistical categories.
Coach Beech is hopeful that a few more of their teammates will step up in the next few weeks if the Sharks would like to make another long run in the playoffs.
Ponte Vedra beats Westside for Bud Beech’s 500th career victory
Bud Beech drove home by himself after winning his 500th career game Wednesday and reflected on 32 years of memories coaching boys basketball in St. Johns County, a book he’s not ready to close any time soon.
Beech’s Ponte Vedra Sharks defeated Westside 53-49 at the Bernard Wilkes Classic at Ribault High School in Jacksonville.
“We’re very excited for him,” said Ponte Vedra point guard JD Pirris. “We all knew before the game it would be his 500th win. We got pretty excited in the locker room. We told him we feel lucky as players. He means so much to us. We feel he’s a great coach. It’s a great accomplishment. It’s special being a part of his 500th win.”
Beech, whose record is 500-358, was a head coach at Nease for 23 years, took a year off in 2007-08 and has coached at Ponte Vedra since the school opened in 2008. At Nease his teams won a state championship in 2002 and finished second a decade earlier in 1992.
“I’ve had a lot of reflection on the ride home,” said Beech, who knew he was getting close to the milestone but did not realize Wednesday’s win would be his 500th until his longtime friend, Pete Weaver, who was officiating the game, came over to him at the final buzzer and shook his hand.
“I couldn’t figure out why he was shaking my hand,” Beech said.
Beech also received congratulations from Nease head coach Josh Bailen, who played for Beech at Nease, and from University of North Florida assistant coach Bobby Kennen, who recruited Beech’s son, Beau Beech, to UNF. Beau now plays for the Long Island Nets in the NBA Development League.
“In this profession it’s the memories and the people you meet that last a lifetime,” Beech said. “I looked on the wall at Ribault and read about Coach Bernard Wilkes’ accomplishments. He won (758 games). Ribault was the best in the area in the ’80s and ’90s, and he was nice enough to come to Nease High School in 1989. We were able to hang with them.
“I vividly remember the games from the 1980s,” he said. “We had a lot of good teams and some not so good teams, too. But good or bad, we had a lot of great kids at Nease and now at Ponte Vedra.”
Beech compiled a 385-248 record at Nease. His first team at Ponte Vedra, which had no seniors, finished 0-23. Just three years later, in 2011-12, the Sharks, led by Beau Beech, went 19-12, won a district championship and advanced to the regional semifinals where they lost in overtime to eventual state runner-up Terry Parker.
Last year, the Sharks advanced to the regional finals for the first time, falling to Zephyrhills in overtime. A win would have sent a Beech-coached squad to the final four for the third time. But there will may be more opportunities and there will be more wins for Beech, who doesn’t appear to be ready to step aside.
“I take it a year at a time,” he said. “If my energy and enthusiam are still there (I’ll stay in it). I still feel my goal is not about wins, it’s about our kids getting better and representing themselves well. ”
Beech, who is Ponte Vedra’s dean of students, said coaching allows him to stay in closer contact with the students than he would as strictly an administrator.
“I couldn’t ask for a better place to teach and coach for 32 years than St. Johns County and Nease and Ponte Vedra,” he said. “I can’t ask for anything more. It’s been fun to watch the county grow from two (public) high schools.”
With their third win in a row, the Sharks improved to 8-4 on the season. Eston Hensley scored 15 points, while Pirris had 14 points and Jack Shannon added 10 against Westside (6-7).
The Sharks’ next game is 7:30 p.m. Friday at Nease, a place that will likely trigger more memories for Beech.
Sharks Close out 2016 on a Winning Note
With the Ponte Vedra basketball team now at their full compliment of players, veteran head coach Bud Beech has seen his squad respond by winning four of their last five games heading into the new year.
Only a loss to Flagler Palm Coast in the opening round of the St. Augustine Holiday classic prevented the Sharks from a clean sweep as their overall record improves to 6-4.
Following their loss to Palm Coast on December 28, the Sharks bounced back with consecutive wins in impressive style over Savannah Windsor Forest 65-56 and Crescent City 74-64.
Not to be overlooked during this season is a major milestone that will soon occur for the popular Ponte Vedra Head Coach. The Sharks victory over Crescent City moved Bud Beech’s win total to 498 career victories, just two wins shy of 500 wins, a total accomplished by very few of his peers in this profession.
Beech is hopeful that win number 500 will come at Ribault High School when the Sharks return to action January 3rd and 4th, first against Baldwin and then the following afternoon against Westside High. Both games with the two Duval County schools will get underway at 1:30 in the afternoon.
Prior to taking more than a week off during the Holiday break, the Sharks went on the road to play St. Augustine. Playing their best defense of the season, the Sharks breezed to a 62-47 victory over St. Augustine. JD Pirris, one of nine Sharks to score in the contest, led Shark scorers with 16 points. Eston Hensley chipped in with 12 points and 10 rebounds while Lance Kren came off the bench to aid the winning cause with 10 tallies.
Following their forgettable loss to Palm Coast, the Sharks recovered nicely in their win over Windsor Forest with Hensley having a monster game for the Beech led crew. The 6’3 senior, who was named to the All-Tournament team, filled the stat sheet with 11 points, 5 blocked shots, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 6 steals.
Coach Bud Beech received some great help from his bench as Kren netted a team high 13 points and sophomore Luke Martin added 10. Senior guard JD Pirris became the 4th Shark to reach double figures with 11 points, to go along with 5 assists ands 6 rebounds.
In their final game of 2016 on December 30, In the first ever meeting between the two schools, Ponte Vedra withstood a late second half Crescent City rally to pull away to a 74-64 victory.
The Sharks had a seemingly secure 52-34 midway through the third quarter, when coach Bud Beech emptied his bench to give his reserves some much needed playing time.
However, Crescent City then closed out the 3rd quarter on a 12-1 run to pull within 7 points of the Sharks heading into the final period of play.
The visitors from Putnam County got as close as two points (54-56) at the 4:48 mark of the fourth quarter before the Sharks regained their poise.
Led by some fine play from Pirris and sophomore Reese Russi, PVHS went on a 19-6 run to pull out their sixth victory of the young season against four defeats. Pirris would tally 10 of his team high 18 points in the final stanza while Russi would deliver 7 of his 10 points in clutch time.
6'8 Junior Jack Johnson continued his improved play with a double-double in the contest with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
When prodded for a quote after his career win number 498, Beech answered veteran reporter Brent Woronoff in a typically humble Beech response: “If you stay in it as long as I have (32 years) it helps.”
JD Pirris returns: Leads Sharks in win over Matanzas
SHARKS VISIT ST. AUGUSTINE TONIGHT
Five games into the 2016-17 basketball season Ponte Vedra’s boys varsity basketball team was still wondering how successful this season could be when they would be able to send their full compliment of players onto the court.
That question may very well have been answered last Friday night with the return of five members from the Shark’s state finalist football team, three of whom were joining the varsity roster.
After being surprised on Tuesday night in a loss to district foe Menendez 55-52, the Sharks were a vastly improved team when they took the court three days later against a much improved Matanzas team.
Buoyed with the return of their top scorer from the 2015-16 season, J.D. Pirris, the Sharks bounced back with a hard earned 70-64 win over the visiting Pirates. Pirris tallied 23 points in his return to the lineup, 18 of those markers coming in the deciding second half.
Although Pirris was eligible to take the court as early as Tuesday night’s contest with Menendez, coach Bud Beech was hesitant to use his all-area performer just three days after Pirris completed his 14th bruising game as a valuable contributor to the Shark’s outstanding football team.
The Shark’s are hopeful with Pirris back into the starting lineup, the results will be reversed when Ponte Vedra visits Menendez next month for a return engagement with the Falcons.
A frigid shooting third quarter doomed the Sharks in their loss to Menendez. The Falcons outscored the ice cold Sharks 20-6 in the period to take a commanding 13 point lead into the final quarter. The Sharks rallied to pull within three points as the final buzzer sounded but were unable to overtake the fired up visitors.
The Sharks can certainly lay much of the blame on the surprising defeat to their poor shooting from two point range, with many of their dismal 11 for 37 shooting coming from very close range.
One lone bright spot for the Sharks was the continued fine play of Eston Hensley. The 6’3 senior scored a game high 16 points and pulled down a team high 11 rebounds in the losing cause.
Friday night was a much happier ending for the locals against a talented Matanzas five. Pirris was understandably rusty in the first half with his shooting form, after but one practice with his current teammates, but the JD of old came out smoking hot in the second half.
Effectively slashing to the basket, Pirris either made his driving layups, or drew fouls in the process, with his forceful drives. In addition to his 4 second half field goals, JD knocked down 11 of his 12 free throws.
Matanzas crept within 3 points of the Sharks midway through the final quarter before the Sharks went on a pivotal 6-0 run on baskets from Chris Tomacewski, Reese Russi, and Jack Johnson for their biggest lead of the game at 66-57. Forced to foul in the game’s closing moments, the Sharks closed out the victory with Pirris making 8 4th quarter free throws.
Following tonight’s road game at St. Augustine, coach Beech will now have a number of practices to work with a full roster before returning back to St. Augustine on December 28th for three consecutive games in the St. Augustine Holiday Classic.
Sharks Now at Full Strength after 2-2 Start.
Veteran head coach Bud Beech has to be pleased to have a 2-2 record after playing the first four games of the season without his All-Area player from the previous season, J.D. Pirris.
Pirris will now join the basketball team after starring on Ponte Vedra’s state runner-up football team that concluded their storybook season in an epic state championship game in Orlando.
Also joining Pirris will be two other football players, 6’3 junior Zach Summers and 6’1 sophomore Reese Russi. The addition of this trio will be welcome news for Beech and the Sharks as two regulars could be lost for an undisclosed time with injuries suffered in games this past week.
Will Mons, who led the Sharks with a game high 13 points in an earlier 66-49 victory over Clay, went down with a knee injury in the Sharks 81-59 loss to Bartram Trail. Dean McCarthy then became the next Shark casualty when he incurred a nasty ankle injury in the Shark’s thrilling 84-82 Friday night victory over Palatka.
Fortunately for Shark followers, both of their victories were district contests, including the win at home against perennial power Palatka. Disappointed that their Friday night game with Palatka could not be moved to another date, the Shark players took out their frustration of not be able to watch their fellow football classmates play for a rare state championship in Orlando with their best effort of the young season.
Three returning regulars from the Sharks final eight team of 2015-16 notched career highs in Friday’s 82-80 win against Palatka. Eston Hensley led all Shark scorers with 24 points, 18 of those points coming in the opening half. The Sharks pulled away from their district rivals in the decisive fourth quarter by pouring in a robust 28 points, with Chris Tomacewski and Jack Shannon combing for 19 of the period points.
Shannon would end the night with a career high 20 points while the energetic Tomacewski tallied 16. Just as he did last year in a road victory against arch rival Nease, Tomaceski was clutch in the fourth quarter as his 10 points put a dagger in the Panthers hopes for victory.
Yet another Shark set a personal high when promising sophomore Ben Hauser chipped in with 15 points. Senior playmaker Mike Nicandri played a huge role in the important victory with his canny ball handling while dribbling through the always intense Palatka pressure defense.
The Sharks can now set their sights on improving on their young record with the addition of Pirris to the starting lineup. As a junior, the 6’2 guard averaged better than 16 points a game, Pirris saved his best for last when he average a whopping 25 points a game during the Sharks improbable playoff run that ended in an overtime road defeat at Zephyrhills.
Coach Beech is hopeful that the Sharks can extend their current 2-0 district record with a pair of district victories this week, both game s that will be contested at the friendly Shark Tank. Menendez visits Shark Country on Tuesday with district newcomer Matanzas visiting on Friday. Both games will immediately follow the junior varsity contests that tip off at 6:00 PM.
Sharks Have High Hopes for 2016-17 Season
While the Ponte Vedra Sharks eagerly await the return to action of their leading scorer from a year ago, JD Pirris, veteran head coach Bud Beech couldn’t be any happier.
In today’s modern era of the One Sport Athlete, Pirris is the rare exception. As a star performer on Ponte Vedra’s outstanding football team, Coach Beech and his soon to be Shark basketball teammates, will lustily cheer on Pirris and our state finalist football team in Orlando Friday afternoon.
Pirris isn’t the only Shark cager starring on the gridiron expected to play a vital role for this year’s basketball team. Junior jumping jack forward Zach Summers could also give Beech’s team a big lift when he is through making huge plays from his defensive end position on the football team.
In addition, Junior Varsity coach Parker Smith will be eager to welcome to his squad a pair of football sophomores who were key performers on last year’s outstanding JV team, Kyle Barker and JD’s younger brother Nick Pirris.
The Sharks opened their basketball season this week with back-to-back contests against Creekside and Clay Co. A loaded Creekside team, with three talented sophomores returning from their outstanding team from a year earlier, and with having played three earlier games, overwhelmed a jittery Shark team in the season opener.
Complimenting the three sophomores for the Knights with the addition of a 6’3 transfer from Wolfson, Creekside raced out to an overwhelming 18-0 lead before the wide eyed Sharks could answer with a bucket of their own.
The Sharks regained their poise to tally a more respectable 17 second period points, but the first quarter draught was too large to overcome as the Knights downed the shorthanded Sharks 69-41.
Fortunately, the Sharks could quickly forget their performance against Creekside when they took the court just a day later against a Clay team, also missing players who played for Clay’s semi-final football on Friday night against the Sharks.
The Shark’s spotted the Blue Devils a 4 point lead at the end of the first quarter, but after trailing 17-13, Ponte Vedra caught fire and played near perfect basketball in outscoring the visitors in the second quarter 23-4 to take a comfortable 36-21 lead at halftime.
Leading the second half surge were a pair of newcomers to the Shark varsity, 6-3 sophomore Ben Hauser and 6’0 junior Will Mons.
With the departure of their only senior from last year’s rotation, Matt Johnson lost through graduation, the Sharks would begin this season minus their playmaker and top defender. However, based on what he showed in Ponte Vedra’s 66-49 victory over Clay, coach Beech just may have found this year’s defensive stopper in Mons, who sat out his sophomore season with a knee injury.
Mons, not only led the Sharks in scoring, but more importantly, shut down Clay’s leading scorer with some tenacious defense. Houser came off the bench in the second period to score all 9 of his points, while 6’8 junior Jack Johnson was a force on defense with his 3 blocked shots that led to easy fast break layups at the other end.
Coach Beech was able to use all 13 players suited up for the contest as he seeks to find a rotation for the upcoming season. In addition to Pirris, other senior regulars returning from last years Regional Finalist team include 6’4 Eston Hensley, 6’1 guard, Jack Shannon, 6’3 center Lance Kren, 5’6 point guard Mike Nicandri, 6’0 guard Chris Tomacewski, and 6’2 Drew McCarthy.
Also showing promise in the first two games, in addition to Johnson and newcomers Mons and Hauser, was 6’5 sophomore Luke Martin. After Clay went on a spurt in the early minutes of the fourth quarter to pull within 7 points of the Sharks, Martin scored 6 quick points to stretch the PV lead out to a commanding margin.
The Sharks will return to action with a road trip to Bartram Trail for a Thursday contest with the Bears. The varsity game will follow the junior varsity contest that tips off at 6:00 PM. The Sharks are scheduled to host Palatka Friday night but coach Beech is hopeful that game can be rescheduled so Shark fans can follow the football team in the state championship game in Orlando.
2016-17 Sharks Basketball Season is Here!
Optimism reigns supreme for the 2016-17th edition of Ponte Vedra basketball as Shark basketball fans will get a quick preview with a pair of pre-season games this week.
The Sharks will tip-off of the current schedule on Wednesday against Cornerstone and will jump right back in action the following evening against an always talented Episcopal five.
The Sharks only had one player from last year’s rotation graduate from last year’s team that shocked just about everybody on the First Coast, advancing all the way to the final eight before losing an overtime game to Zephyrhills, one win away from a trip to the state’s final four.
However, the loss of Matt Johnson will not be an easy spot to fill as the 2016 graduate led the team in assists, steals, was second in scoring to J.D. Pirris, and was far and away the team’s leading defender.
Veteran head coach Bud Beech has a 14 man roster this season that includes a number of players who were instrumental in last year’s surprising long run. In addition to rotation returnees from last season; Pirris, Jack Shannon, Chris Tomacewski, Lance Kren, Eston Hensley, Dean McCarthy, Mike Nicandri and 6’8 junior Jack Johnson, the Shark’s will have some much needed depth with a bevy of talented players from last year’s outstanding junior varsity squad.
In the past the Sharks would normally begin their season with a few games sprinkled into their schedule before the calendar would reach December. However, wily veteran coach Beech, fully cognizant that this year’s PVHS football team might be playing into December, held off scheduling any varsity contests until December 1st when the Sharks tip off their season against Clay County.
All area performer and All State candidate J.D. Pirris is a valuable cog on the Shark’s football team, as is the high rising junior dunking machine Zach Summers. Pirris and Summers will report to the basketball season as soon as the football season ends, hopefully on Defcember 9th in Orlando.
Both pre-season games this week will begin with a 7:00 PM tip-off at the Shark Tank.
Sharks Can Look Back with Pride On a Great Season
Now that Ponte Vedra’s highly successful, yet totally unexpected season has come to an end, it is time to reflect back, and yet still look ahead, into the future of Shark basketball.
Shortly before this season got underway I had the opportunity to interview our veteran coach entering his 31st season as a high school basketball coach. Bud Beech acknowledged that the cupboard was nearly bare, as all but two players who saw any playing time in last year’s rotation would return for the 2015-16 season.
Before this season tipped off nobody with a sound mind and body could have foreseen the Sharks coming just a single point shy of becoming regional champions and advancing to the state final four. At the conclusion of my pre-season conversation with the popular coach, we both agreed that a .500 season would be a nice accomplishment.
To win 19 games, with a demanding schedule that included every team from the First Coast that advanced to the Final Eight, would be a near impossible task. However, after watching a few off-season games played against a variety of opponents, it quickly became apparent that this team could prove to be a pleasant surprise.
“Everybody on the team got better,” Coach Bud Beech was quick to reply. The veteran coach perhaps best summed up the season in a post game conversation with a local reporter following the regional final game. “ In my career, I’ve never seen a team improve as much from the first half of the season to the end.”
“At the start of the season we knew it would be a big transition for our younger players to adjust to the speed and the higher quality of play,” said Beech. And it showed as the Sharks were overwhelmed in the early minutes of the season opener with St. Augustine, trailing by as many as 19 points. The Sharks quickly recovered to nearly pull off a comeback victory but a 9-19 poor performance at the free throw line proved too difficult to overcome.
The low point for the Sharks had to be their poor showing in front of a packed house against arch rival Nease High School. Ponte Vedra was clearly playing tight against the Panthers but the experience of playing in front of large crowds would play enormous dividends down the road.
To back up Beech’s contention that the Sharks got better as the season continued, Ponte Vedra turned the table and defeated both St. Augustine and Nease in their next encounter, with both victories coming on their opponents own court.
Beech could have enhanced his still impressive 19-11 record by padding his schedule with a bunch of cupcakes, but the difficult schedule toughened up the Sharks when the FHSAA tournaments rolled around.
Five of their 10 regular season defeats came at the hands of 4 opponents who, like Ponte Vedra, advanced all the way to the state’s elite eight. The Sharks even managed to split the season series against Creekside, a regional finalist in Division 7.
The Sharks peaked at the right time, winning 7 straight victories before finally exiting the tourney in heartbreaking fashion .
When asked why his team posted such a successful season Beach retorted: “ “We knew that JD (Pirris) was going to be a good player but we didn’t know he would score at this level as well as he did. Teams just didn’t have an answer for him getting to the basket. I knew that Matt (Johnson) was going to give us all the different things that he gave us, but he also saved us 10 points a game being the defensive player that he is.
Although Pirris and Johnson were the mainstays of this team, Beech also got some good production from a number of other players. By season’s end Beech had settled on a 7 man rotation of Pirris, Matt Johnson, Lance Kren, Chris Tomacewski, Eston Hensley, Jack Shannon, and Jack Johnson, all underclassmen. If not for incurring a concussion during a practice session, junior Mike Nicandri would have seen more playing time.
“I thought Lance Kren played well for us at the end, not only knocking down some big shots but by playing some solid defense and getting us some big rebounds. Jack Shannon continued to improve and he helped us when other teams with bigger players would score inside, Jack could counter with a 3 pointer,” noted Beech.
“Eston Hensley gave us some big games as did Chris Tomacewski and Jack Johnson.” They just all continued to get better,” Beech repeated.”
Of the numerous players that will return for next year, JD Pirris certainly headlines this list. It will be a big surprise for this author if Pirris isn’t honored as the St. Johns County Player of the year when post season honors are announced. The two-sport star (already the PVHS single season record holder in football for most passing yard receptions) concluded his season in whirlwind fashion. Pirris averaged 25 points per game during the five games in the playoffs as well as leading the team in rebounds.
Although standing but 6’2, Pirris is now the second leading rebounder in Shark history, trailing behind only UNF star performer, 6’9 Beau Beech.
When asked about his expectations for next year, Beech said: “ We have a lot of good players returning, including some fine players from the JV team who we expect to get better by playing, either on their summer AAU teams or pick-up games during the off-season. I expect some of those JV players to play a definite role for us next year. it will be interesting to see.”
With Matt Johnson set to graduate, and carry his record of attaining straight A’s to college next fall, his departure will be difficult to replace. Although Johnson averaged in double figures in scoring, it was his other talents on the court that were even more valuable. Johnson was the consummate team player who led the team in assists and steals but, as Beech pointed out, was invaluable as the Shark defensive stopper.
Competition will most definitely be intense for playing time on the Shark 2016-17 squad. Nine roster players return and will be complimented by the addition of a pair of outstanding sophomores from this year’s outstanding JV team, Liam Carey and Zach Summers. It is also conceivable that one or more of this year’s talented freshmen could also challenge for a roster spot.
Needless to add, the future of Ponte Vedra basketball is in good hands.
Sharks defeat Santa Fe -- Advance to Regional Final
When a team loses 17 of their 19 roster players, one could assume that expectations were none too high for this years Sharks Basketball team.
However, facing a daunting schedule, loaded with powerhouse teams, this year's Ponte Vedra team has exceeded even the most optimistic of forecasts following tonight's 59-54 victory over Alachua Santa Fe.
The victory has propelled Ponte Vedra, in just their 8th year of high school basketball, into the elite eight and a berth in the Regional finals Friday night against Zephyrhills.
JD Pirris spearheaded the Shark victory with a team high 24 points as well as playing an inspired brand of team basketball. JD had plenty of help from his mates as a number of Sharks rose to the occasion to catapult the Sharks the deepest ever traveled in FHSAA history.
Eston Hensley showed no fear in this contest, that showed neither team boasting of a lead larger than five points. Hensley added 11 points to the cause, 6 of those points coming in the pivotal fourth quarter, and pulled down a team high 8 rebounds.
The Sharks trailed Santa Fe 24-22 at the halftime break but outscored the visitors by 5 points in the third period.
The third period came to a close when the Sharks executed a perfect fast break, with Matt Johnson dishing off one of his five assists with a clever behind the back pass to Pirris that resulted in a three point play for the Sharks.
The Sharks posted their biggest lead of the game at 52-47 as time was winding down in the Shark Tank. However, Santa Fe's Trey McCray cut the deficit down to 3 with one of only two 3 point baskets made by the Raiders in the game. A driving layup by Santa Fe's Maquez Carter knotted the game at 52-52 with less than two minutes left to be played.
It was then that JD Pirris worked his magic with one of his driving layups to give the Sharks a 54-52 advantage with 1:37 remaining.
After Sante Fe missed a shot, the Raiders fouled Pirris and Mr. Clutch for the victors cashed in on what would prove to be the winning free throw to give the Sharks a 56-52 lead.
Sante Fe would counter with a Kham Taylor rebound basket to cut the lead to but two points with only 15 seconds remaining. Matt Johnson converted 1 of 2 free throws to up the lead to 3.
Alachua Santa Fe was unable to even get off a shot and turned the ball over with :04 showing on the clock. Pirris then put the game away with the last of his 8 consecutive free throws to secure the victory.
Victorius Shark coach Bud Beech used his bench masterfully throughout the contest, with 8 Sharks in all seeing game action. Senior captain Matt Johnson talled 10 points to become one of three Sharks in double figures.
Jack Shannon played a solid game for the 19-10 winners with 7 points and zero turnovers. For the game, despite seeing full court pressure during most of the 32 minutes of action, PVHS only committed a very low total of 10 turnovers.
The Sharks will now make the long 3 hour journey to Zephyrhills with a chance to advance to the final four. Game time this Friday is set for 7:00 PM. A win Friday night would send this very young Ponte Vedra team to the final four the following Thursday in Lakeland, a goal that surely had to be an unfathomable quest at this season's onset.
Young Sharks Host Santa Fe Tuesday in Regional SF
With their 76-55 stomping of Gainesville Eastside last Thursday, the Sharks now advance to the Regional Semi Finals Tuesday when they host Alachua Santa Fe.
Not since the 2011-12 Ponte Vedra squad upset Bishop Kenny in the regional first round has a Shark squad advanced this far in the school’s brief history. This time the Sharks did not have to fight to the final buzzer to advance.
Playing their best half of the season, the Sharks put on a clinic in the first two periods by outscoring the visitors from Gainesville 49-18. The 49 points fell but one point shy of the 50 points tallied by the Beau Beech-Jackson Johnson led team in a victory over Bartram Trail in the 2011-12 season.
Jackson’s younger brother Matt, teamed up with JD Pirris as the Sharks deadly duo each scored 15 first half points, as the Rams from Eastside left the court at halftime stunned by the dynamic Shark attack.
Pirris and Johnson got some valuable help from their mates as the Shark’s ball movement was at its season best. Eastside led early in the contest 6-3, but the rest of the half belonged to the Sharks. Coach Bud Beech got a huge lift from his bench when midway through the opening stanza he inserted 6’7 sophomore Jack Johnson and 6’0 junior Chris Tomacewski into the lineup.
Weakened somewhat from a bout with the flu earlier in the week, Johnson quickly changed the tempo of the game into the Shark’s favor. Blocking or altering a number of Eastside shots, as well as controlling the defensive backboards, Jack Johnson’s outlet passes following a defensive rebound keyed a number of fast breaks that turned into easy Shark baskets.
Tomacewski meanwhile brought his usual energy to the floor with his defense and ability to slash through his opponent to score on driving layups. All seven players used in Coach Beech’s rotation scored in the first half, leaving the visitors in severe danger of playing with a running clock in the first half.
Three times early in the second half the Shark’s we're within a basket from a mercy rule 35 points advantage, only to have Gainesville stave off the possible embarrassment with a gallant second half effort. The Sharks took a 32 point lead into the final period and were content to just coast to the victory.
Pirris and Matt Johnson did an outstanding job of filling out the stat lines. Pirris would finish with 24 points and a half dozen assists and rebounds. Johnson, after tallying 15 first half points, was content to get his teammates involved in the second half action. The senior captain had 17 points and 6 assists while his lone turnover was on an offensive charge.
The recipient of some nice kick out passes from his fellow sharks, Jack Shannon does what he does best and finished with 11 points, 9 of those coming from his first of three consecutive makes on 3 point shots.
After the game Gainesville Eastside’s veteran coach Herman Williams lamented to the court side reporter from the St. Augustine Record that his team’s youth contributed heavily to the defeat. Perhaps Williams wasn’t aware Ponte Vedra has a very young squad of their own, as Matt Johnson was the only senior who dented the scoring column for the equally young Sharks.
Jack Johnson demonstrated that he could very well be the missing link if the Sharks are to continue deeper into this year’s FHSAA playoffs. Johnson, in very limited minutes, led the Sharks with 9 rebounds, five blocked shots and a slam dunk that contributed to two of his five points scored on the night.
Johnson’s presence will be needed as Alachua’s Santa Fe’s team’s main strength is up front. In Santa Fe’s 53-42 win over Palatka, 60 percent of their scoring came from their front line. The Sharks will welcome the advantage of hosting the Tuesday, February 16 contest, with the opening tip off once again set for 7:00 PM at the friendly Shark Tank.
Ponte Vedra defeats Palatka to win District Title
It surely wasn’t the start they were looking for, but the ending suited Ponte Vedra’s varsity basketball team just fine in last Friday night’s 60-52 victory over Palatka. The win earned the Sharks their 3rd district championship in 5 years and improved their overall record to 17-10.
The victory also earned the Sharks home court advantage when they resume FHSAA tourney action Thursday night when they host Gainesville Eastside at 7:00 PM.
After an easy 80-43 victory over Menendez in the first round of the district tourney, the Sharks were expecting a much tougher game in their rubber game against Palatka. And a tough game it was!
The two district rivals had split their earlier games played during the regular season, with both teams holding serve on their home court.
With many of the late arriving crowd still waiting in long lines that formed outside the Ponte Vedra gymnasium, Palatka quickly jumped out to an early 9-0 lead, much to the delight of the large following of Panther rooters who made the more than one hour jaunt from Putnam County.
It was not until nearly five minutes had elapsed in the opening quarter before Ponte Vedra was able to score, but a 9-4 Ponte Vedra run closed the gap to a more manageable 5 point deficit at the break, with Palatka on top 14-9.
After being held scoreless in the first quarter, JD Pirris came alive in the second stanza by slashing through the tenacious Panther defense to score 6 of Ponte Vedra’s 12 points as the Sharks closed to within 3 of Palatka at the halftime intermission.
The Sharks were trailing 33-30 with 3:47 remaining in the third quarter before the tide turned into Ponte Vedra’s favor. A Palatka player was called for a technical foul, and Pirris made them pay as he canned both of the free throws. Pirris then followed up with another of his patented driving layups to give the Sharks their first lead of the night, 34-33 with 3:15 left in the third.
Senior Matt Johnson then netted back-to-back 3 pointers to extend the lead to 42-36 to help steer the Sharks to a 44-38 lead heading into the final quarter. Pirris and Johnson combined to score 16 of the Sharks third period points. The 23 points scored in the quarter by PVHS were more then they had tallied in the entire first half of action.
Johnson continued his stellar play into the final period by scoring the Sharks first 6 points, but Palatka would not go away. The Sharks would build their lead to 10 and seemingly had the game sewed up with but 2:15 left in the contest.
However, when Palatka’s pressing defense denied Pirris, Johnson and junior Eston Hensley from receiving the ball, 3 Ponte Vedra turnover had trimmed the Shark lead down to 5 points with 1:13 remaining. With the Sharks attempting to run out the clock, much to the total surprise of many in the packed Ponte Vedra gymnasium, one of the Shark players unloaded an ill advised 3 point attempt. Chris Tomacewski bailed his teammate out by coming up with a clutch offensive rebound and Palatka was forced to foul, sending JD Pirris to the line.
Pirris, who was a 71 per cent free throw shooter as a sophomore, had a dismal first half of the season at the stripe, including a woeful 3-11 at the line in a December game against St. Augustine. Those days are now well in the distant past as JD, since the start of the New Year, has made better than 80% of his free throws. Pirris salted the game away by hitting 4 clutch free throws, while Hensely took a perfect feed from Johnson and scored in the final moments as the Sharks advance to the regionals with their 60-52 victory.
Johnson (17 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists), and Pirris (21 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists) had monster nights for the victors, while 6’3 junior forward Eston Hensley (10 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and zero turnovers) also had a solid performance. Coach Beech however, will need better play from his remaining players in the rotation if the Sharks are to make some noise in the upcoming regionals.
Mike Nicandri could have made the night much easier for Beech and the Sharks but he has had to sit out the last couple of games due to concussion issues. Much to the surprise of many of the Palatka followers, who brought 3 bus load of students to Ponte Vedra for the game, they did not see 6’7 Shark sophomore Jack Johnson play in the contest.
On January 8, in the Shark 76-65 victory over Palatka, Johnson came off the bench to set a school record with 8 blocks, while adding an impressive 7 rebounds and 6 points to his stat line.
Gainesville Eastside, losers in their district final to Alachua Santa Fe 66-51, will be the Shark’s opponent Thursday night with a scheduled tip off at 7:00 PM. With another large crowd expected, local followers are urged to arrive early to avert a repeat of last Friday when a number of fans missed the early moments of action while waiting in the long lines to purchase tickets.
A win against Eastside will also assure the Sharks of hosting a regional semi-final on Tuesday February 16, against the winner of the regional game between Alachua Santa Fe and Palatka.
Sharks enter Playoffs with Momentum
The final week of the season could not have been scripted any better for Ponte Vedra’s 2015-16 basketball squad.
Friday’s exciting 69-61 victory over Nease capped a three game week that saw the Sharks sweep all three of their games, providing some much needed momentum heading into the FHSAA playoffs beginning Tuesday.
The Sharks are excited to be the host school for the Division 5 district competition with Clay Co facing Palatka in the Feb 2nd tournament opener at 6:00 PM with the Sharks squaring off against Menendez at 7:30.
The win over Nease improves the Shark’s season record to 15-10 and assures PVHS of a winning season, a quality accomplishment for a team that returned but 2 contributors from the previous year.
When asked if a .500 record would be the an acceptable mark for this young basketball team prior to the start of the current campaign, veteran head coach Bud Beech agreed that would be a realistic goal. Mission accomplished — and then some!
A 15 win regular season certainly can not be attributed to the Sharks scheduling a number of ‘cream puffs’. Playing state ranked powers such as Bolles (twice), Providence, and Creekside the Sharks were able to bounce back and defeat three teams who had defeated PVHS earlier in the season, a sure sign of a team that shows improvement during the course of a season.
The Sharks began their week with a win over Baker Co, a team that had defeated PVHS in both of their previous encounters.
Coach Beech did a marvelous job spreading the minutes for his entire roster by keeping fresh legs assembled on the court, fully aware of the upcoming arduous work week. Beech used his entire roster in the 58-49 victory over Baker Co, with 10 of the 11 players that saw action denting the scoring column.
Following an explosive third quarter, when they outscored the visiting Wildcats 26-14, the Sharks had a seemingly secure lead, a margin that had one point stretched to 18 points.
However, the Wildcats whittled the lead all the way down to a shaky six points with less than 3 minutes remaining.
Beech then inserted four of his starting five back into the lineup, along with seldom used senior Cole Martin. Martin then made his coach look like a genius by hitting the game's biggest shot, a clutch 3 point basket that spread the lead back to nine to clinch the Sharks 58-49 win over Baker Co.
Two nights later the Sharks provided the perfect ending for their followers on Senior night. One of the pair of upcoming graduates, Cole Martin, gave the Sharks a big lift in the beginning, while the other senior, Matthew Johnson, supplied the finishing touch at the end of a thrilling 56-55 victory over a very athletic Mandarin team.
Getting his first start of the season, Martin again delivered in the early minutes by scoring five quick points to quickly galvanize the large crowd in attendance.
After the Sharks had taken a slim 4 point lead into their locker room at intermission, it appeared chances for a victory on Senior Night were doomed as the visiting Mustangs went on a 18-2 run to temporarily silence the loyal Shark supporters.
The Sharks then mounted a determined comeback, and rallied to take a 53-51 lead with less than 2 minutes remaining after JD Pirris scored 2 of his 7 fourth quarter points. That lead was short-lived as the Mustangs answered with 4 unanswered tallies, before Matt Johnson had his own senior moment.
With Mandarin holding a two point lead, and the clocking winding down inside the final minute of the contest, Johnson came up with his 3rd steal of the game and made the layup to knot the game at 53 all. Mandarin's Ceri Phillips then seemingly put the Sharks away with a two pointer with 15 seconds left.
However, Mandarin had lightning strike them twice when Matt Johnson, after receiving a perfect pass from Eston Hensley, for the second time this season defeated the Mustangs with a three point basket as the Sharks fans erupted.
Mandarin still had time as 0:06 was left on the clock. The Mustang's Andrew Duong dribbled the length of the court and had a clear path to the basket, but his last second lay up was cleanly swatted away by Hensley and the Sharks escaped with their 14th hard earned victory of the season.
The Sharks had little time to enjoy their last minute heroics as less than 24 hours later a date with arch rival Nease was in the cards. The Sharks traveled across ‘The Ditch’ with high hopes of turning the tables on the Panthers after a disappointing showing against their rivals in a loss in early December.
As usual, when these two foes meet on the hardwoods, another jam packed crowd filled Nease’s gymnasium to the brim. And for those who expected yet another exciting PV-Nease matchup, they would not go away disappointed.
For much of the game it appeared the Sharks would have an easy time with the host Panthers, with Ponte Vedra holding a 32-21 lead at halftime. However, energized by their loud following from their fellow students bedecked in Hawaiian attire, the Panthers would not go away quietly.
Trailing 53-44 in the final quarter, the Panthers stirred their fans into a frenzy by going on a 9-0 run that tied the score at 53-53 with but 3:12 remaining in the contest.
The Sharks appeared worn down and desperately needed a spark from someone. Coach Beech found the ignitor in junior fireball Chris Tomacewski. Chris energized the Sharks with his fearless play and scored 10 second half points, many of those coming in the game’s final moments.
Ponte Vedra also received some first-rate play from Eston Hensley, who stopped the Nease comeback with a pivotal three pointer as the Sharks retook a lead they would never relinquish at 56-53. The Sharks then confidently made 8 consecutive free throws over the game's final minutes to salt away the victory and provide the locals with some much needed momentum heading into Tuesday’s tournament opener with Menendez.
The Sharks should not take Menendez lightly as one only need to look back a year to look at a similar scenario. Last year the Sharks, just as they have done this season, twice defeated Menendez during the regular season, before watching their hopes of making a long tournament run go up in smoke when the Falcons stunned the Sharks on a last second buzzer beater.
Sharks Honor Seniors - Close out Home Basketball Season Tonight vs. Mandarin
Editors Note: This article also appears in todays Ponte Vedra Recorder
With the most difficult of their brutal schedule now behind them, Coach Bud Beech’s Ponte Vedra basketball squad has high hopes of ending their regular season with a winning record.
Tonight will mark their final regular season home game when they host a high powered Mandarin team. Mandarin scored 86 points against the Sharks in an earlier meeting in November, the most points ever allowed by a Ponte Vedra team. Fortunately, the Sharks netted 89 points, the highest offensive output in school history, and won the thrilling contest on a last second 3 point buzzer beater by senior Matt Johnson.
Matt Johnson will be one of two seniors that will be honored prior to the game as the Mandarin tilt is earmarked as Senior Night. Also bidding adieu for the Sharks will be reserve forward Cole Martin.
Although Martin has seen little playing time for the Sharks, his perseverance has been an inspiration for his teammates and a prime example how one ‘never gives up.’
Prior to each of his previous three years at Ponte Vedra High, Martin had tried out for the basketball team and each time was cut from the squad. However, the determined Martin continue to work hard on the game that he loves, and he was awarded this year for his efforts, and his improved skills, by earning a spot on this year’s team.
Martin’s contributions and work ethic drew some high praise from coach Beech. “Persistence, determination, attitude and a love for the game made it possible for Cole to make our team for his senior year,” said Beech.
“Each year after tryouts, I extend the opportunity to those who did not make the team to get involved with off season workouts and leagues. Most do not participate; Cole did, and everyone noticed him getting stronger physically, gaining confidence and significantly improving his basketball skills over the past year.
The only way you make yourself better at anything is to listen and take action to change a situation. Cole has done both. It has been a pleasure to have the opportunity to be Cole’s coach this past season,” added Beech.
A crowd favorite whenever the popular senior enters a game, Martin has been rewarded by seeing action in 15 of the Sharks’ 23 games played thus far this year.
And Cole will leave the program with a ‘Senior Moment’ he will long remember. Inserted late into the game, along with 4 other players who are part of the regular rotation, the Sharks had seen a once comfortable 18 point lead cut down to a less than secure 6 point margin. Martin then hit a clutch three pointer to move the lead up to nine and the Sharks were never again challenged in Tuesday’s victory over Baker Co.
“Cole is a good teammate, very coachable, and makes us better players with his hard work at practice,” remarked his fellow senior and Shark captain Matthew Johnson.
Johnson, a two-year starter and the younger brother of one of Ponte Vedra’s all time best athletes, Jackson Johnson, has been a stellar performer for the Sharks.
Veteran PA announcer Ross Byers, who has been a loyal supporter and volunteer contributor for Ponte Vedra athletes since the school’s inception, had this observation on Johnson: “When Matthew’s brother Jackson started as a freshmen here at Ponte Vedra, Jackson was already a very skilled player,” noted Byers. “In my many years following Ponte Vedra Basketball I have never seen any player improve more during the course of his career than Matt Johnson. He has really turned into a terrific player,” added Byers.
Johnson has averaged more than 13 points per game, but his other attributes on the court really define the 5’11 senior guard. A very unselfish player, Johnson leads the team in assists. His 9 assists in a recent game against Bishop Kenny ranks second only to his brother Jackson. Matthew, who also tops the Sharks in steals, is the Shark defensive ace who always draws the opponents leading scorer.
Coach Beech also had high praise for the very athletic Johnson. “Only a few players during my coaching career matched the intensity and competitive spirit displayed by Matthew over his four years at Ponte Vedra High School,” said Beech.
“These characteristics, along with his athleticism, attributed to him being the best defensive player on our team and in the First Coast region,” very high praise indeed from his mentor.
However, what Johnson has accomplished on the court is undoubtably second to his work in the classroom. “Matthew’s basketball IQ parallels with his academics, which ranks him exceptionally high in his class,” added coach Beech.
Since Johnson first arrived in Ponte Vedra from Wisconsin, prior to the start of sixth grade at Landrum Middle School, Johnson has never earned less than a perfect A in all of his classes for the past seven years.
After tonight’s contest with Mandarin, the Sharks will then close out their regular season with revenge on their mind. Playing their poorest game of the season — in front of the largest home crowd —— the Sharks hope to make amends for their embarrassing showing earlier with a victory over their arch rival Friday at Nease High School.
Although tonight’s game with Mandarin marks the final home game of the regular season, it will not be the last game contested at the Shark Tank. Ponte Vedra hosts district play in Division 5A this year, with the playoff opener Tuesday night at 7:30 against Menendez, following the tourney opener at 6PM pitting Clay vs. Palatka.
Tuesday’s two winners will then square off Friday PM for the district championship, also held at Ponte Vedra.
Sharks begin final week at home Tue vs. Baker Co
Sharks Hope to Close out Regular Season With Winning Record
With the most difficult of their brutal schedule now behind them, Coach Bud Beech’s Ponte Vedra basketball squad has high hopes of ending their regular season with a winning record.
The Shark cagers ran into a pair of red hot teams last week, first dropping a contest to Bishop Kenny, 78-57, followed by a 79-64 defeat at the hands of arguably the most talented Creekside team in their school’s young history. With 19 wins already to their credit, the Knights are a cinch to top their schools previous all time high of 19 victories, earned by a Jay Cody coached squad during the 2010-11 season.
The Sharks held a narrow one point lead at halftime, but Creekside had too much firepower in the final two quarters as the Knights improved their record to a school best 19-4.
The problem of late for the Sharks has not been their ability to score, but to defend. The Sharks have been scoring on the season at a school record clip of 60 points each outing, but have given up 61 points per game to their opponent, second only to the 62 points pg. allowed by the Sharks winless inaugural team of 2008-09.
Against their last 3 opponents the defense has been even worse, allowing a whopping 77 points per game; although this fact can be tempered with the fact that the Sharks played against powerful teams that boast a combined record of 56-12.
The Sharks’s will fine tune their game, and hopefully tighten up their defense, for next week’s playoffs with a busy three game week, with two of those contests at home, beginning Tuesday night when they host Baker Co.
Ponte Vedra will be looking for their first ever win against Baker, after suffering a pair of gut wrenching losses that should have left a bitter taste for the Sharks. It was a Baker County team from two year’s ago that invaded the Shark tank in the Regional Quarterfinals and defeated Ponte Vedra in overtime.
The Sharks let a 10 point lead slip away in the two point loss to the Wildcats last year, in a contest where the Sharks felt they were served a little dish of ‘home cooking’ from the game officials, while also dealing with a hostile environment.
Thursday night will mark their final regular season home game when they host a high powered Mandarin team. Mandarin scored 86 points against the Sharks in an earlier meeting in November, the most points ever allowed by a Ponte Vedra team. Fortunately, the Sharks netted 89 points, the highest offensive output in school history, and won the thrilling contest on a last second 3 point buzzer beater by Matt Johnson.
Johnson will be one of but two seniors that will be honored prior to the game as the Mandarin tilt is earmarked as Senior Night. Also bidding adieu for the Sharks will be reserve forward Cole Martin.
The Sharks will then close out their regular season with revenge on their mind. Playing their poorest game of the season — in front of the largest home crowd — the Sharks hope to make amends for their earlier embarrassing showing with a victory over arch rival Nease, Friday night at Nease High School.
All games will begin at 7:30 following Junior Varsity contests that tip off at 6:00 PM. Fans are encouraged to arrive early to enjoy JV coach Dustin Latta’s Sharks, who carry an impressive 15-3 record, including three victories last week against power programs Providence, Bishop Kenny and Creekside.
For those unable to attend the two home games, they can be seen on their computers at www.planeths.com.
Sharks With Winning Record Heading Into Final Two Weeks
The Sharks carry a winning 12-8 record and a number one district seed, as the 2015-16 regular season approaches the final two weeks of the campaign.
After defeating their final two district foes, Clay and Menendez, the Sharks have concluded their district obligations and now look forward to play five talented opponents, with four of those games scheduled to be played at the friendly Shark Tank.
Only last Friday night’s defeat at the hands of the defending state championship Providence team marred a perfect week for the Sharks.
After busting out to an early 6-0 lead in their loss to Providence, thanks to a couple of long 3 point bombs from Jack Shannon, the Sharks then appeared to play very tight and tentative against their heralded opponent.
The Sharks trailed by a mere 2 points, 12-10, after the first quarter of action, but when coach Beech went to his bench to give some needed rest for his regulars, playing their second game in two nights, Providence took advantage of the mismatch in talent and outscored PVHS 20-7 in the 2nd quarter and were never again challenged.
The Sharks were far off form against the Stallions, a team comprised of numerous transfers, including last year’s St. Johns County Player of the year Zachary Bryant, who played for Menendez last year. Bryant had to work hard against Ponte Vedra’s defensive ace Matt Johnson, scoring 19 points, while former Lee High standout Jacorie Archie was close behind with 17 markers.
Johnson had 11 and Pirris 10 for the Sharks in the 74-47 loss to the Stallions, who have not been beaten by a Jacksonville Area Public School in more than a decade.
Ponte Vedra and Clay met for the third time this season on January 12, with a possibility of yet a fourth game if both teams make it to the district finals. Ponte Vedra made it three straight victories over the Blue Devils, but the Sharks had to work hard to dispose of the improved Clay Co five.
Ponte Vedra had to go on a 11-2 run over the game's final minutes to seal the hard fought 74-65 victory and needed career games from a pair of juniors to finally put the game away.
Eston Hensley tallied 21 points while Jack Shannon equaled his career high with 18 as the two juniors combined to shoot a perfect 10-10 on their two point attempts. Ponte Vedra, entering the game with a poor team free throw percentage of just over 50 per cent, netted a much improved 13 of their 16 attempts to aid their cause.
Pirris with 12, and senior Matt Johnson with 10 points, were also in double figures for the Sharks.
Two days later the Sharks went on an even bigger run in their 64-42 road win against Menendez. Trailing by one point, 40-39 with 2:20 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Ponte Vedra went on an unfathomable 25-2 run in defeating Menendez for the second time this season.
The host Falcons played superb ball for the first 20 minutes of the contest before the Sharks put the foot on the gas, offensively and defensively, over the final 10 minutes of the contest. Scoring for the Sharks was well balanced on the evening with juniors Shannon with 15, Pirris 12, and Hensley with 10, all in double figurers.
The win insures that these two squads will next square off against one another for the second straight year in the first round of the districts, when state tournament play opens up at Ponte Vedra High on Tuesday, February 2.
The Sharks, playing one of the area’s toughest schedules, will next move from the proverbial ‘frying pan into the fire.’ On Tuesday, Bishop Kenny, featuring a pair of future Division I standouts, including the area’s leading scorer in Christian Carlyle, will bring a more than impressive 19-2 record into the Shark Tank.
Also appearing in Ponte Vedra next week Friday at the Shark Tank will be yet another team with a superb record, Creekside. The Knights have dropped but 4 games this season, with one of those losses inflicted by the Sharks in late November 67-63.
SHARKS MID-SEASON JV REPORT
Coach Dustin Latta, back from a one year sabbatical, has to be more than pleased with the showing of this year’s very young Ponte Vedra Junior Varsity Basketball team. With the sudden departure of last year’s JV coach, Parker Smith, who left to play pro basketball overseas shortly before the start of this year’s schedule, varsity head coach Bud Beech was ecstatic when Latta agreed to once again take over the JV coaching reigns.
Latta previously guided the young Sharks for three years, before stepping aside to pursue additional teaching burdens here at PVHS, and has once again proven to be a perfect fit to guide this year’s impressive squad.
It would have been too much to ask to improve upon last season’s impressive record of 18 wins against but 4 defeats, but as we reach the halfway point of the current season, the 2015-16 edition of the Sharks appear to be right on track to match, or perhaps exceed, last year’s record.
Heading into a very busy January schedule, that will see the young Sharks cram 10 games into the next three weeks, the JVs boast of a fine record of 9 wins against but a pair of defeats.
The Sharks can discard one of their two defeats as a learning experience in their one point loss at Bolles. Playing in but their second game of the season, the freshmen dominated Sharks had a seemingly secure 7 point lead with less than 3 minutes remaining in the contest. Much to the ire of coach Latta, instead of settling for layups only and milking the clock, the Sharks fired away from 3 point range and let Bolles creep back into the game. Bolles connected on a 15 foot jumper with just :03 showing on the clock, taking a sure victory away from the Sharks.
The Sharks other defeat, to a very talented and athletic Fletcher team 64-53, displayed some of the weaknesses that these young Sharks will have to work on in the off season as they graduate to the next level of varsity competition. The Sharks committed 19 turnovers, with many of those ending up as uncontested layups, exposing some ball handling shortcomings from the young PVHS freshmen.
The loss to Fletcher would prove to be the last loss incurred by these Sharks as they have since rattled off five straight victories, including a pair of wins against an always talented Palatka five.
Coach Latta did an outstanding job of giving his entire 15 roster plenty of playing time before the lengthly Holiday break, often substituting a complete 5 player rotation in the opening half before settling on an end of the game rotation comprised of those who played well earlier in the game.
One of the few sophomores in Latta’s rotation is 6’3 Liam Carey, younger brother of last year’s star player Quinn Carey. Carey missed his entire freshmen season due to a shoulder surgery and appears to be completely recovered physically.
Carey made a few token appearances over the Holiday on the varsity and could be a dark horse candidate to give the varsity some needed rebounding help come playoff time. Carey has 4 times scored in double figures this year for Latta’s crew and is clearly leading the team in rebounding. (although individual stats are not complete due to the ‘sudden retirement’ of the team’s volunteer statistician. Hint—- any volunteers?)
Carey is the only sophomore on the JV team in the top 6 in individual scoring. With minutes spread out rather evenly among his entire roster, all the top scorers have relatively modest scoring totals.
Reese Russi, with an average of 11 points, is one of two JV’s averaging in double figures per game, with a season high of 23 points in a Shark victory over Bartram Trail. Close behind Russi is Kyle Barker at 10 points per game with a season best of 19.
Luke Martin, one of the taller performers (6’3) for Ponte Vedra, has displayed promise of having a very productive basketball career for the Sharks with his basketball skills. Once Martin puts on some much needed poundage, the slender freshman could play a role as early as next year for Coach Beech’s varsity crew.
Yet another of the young freshmen who could blossom into a very fine player is 6’2 Ben Houser. Ben showed his potential with a fine showing against Bartram Trail and is one of the better ball handlers among the front line performers.
Johnny Corlazzoli has done a nice job giving the Sharks some depth in the backcourt and will likely move into a bigger role on next year’s Shark JV team, in the event that current freshmen guards Russi and Barker move up to the varsity.
Athletic 6’2 sophomore Zach Summers has earned a spot on this year’s rotation. Coach Latta has been diligently urging Summers to use his athleticism to drive to the basket to earn his points rather then settling for jump shots. On a positive note, Summers leads the combined varsity and JV teams in dunks (One).
This author’s bolt in the blue candidate to play a possible prominent role in a couple of years is diminutive point guard Matthew Webster. There is no denying Webster’s toughness as he was a durable performer on the PVHS JV football team last fall as a running back. Although his time has been limited this year due to his 5’2 stature, Webster is perhaps the team’s best ball handler and could play a valuable role once he picks up some sure to come added inches.
The Sharks play a 21 game schedule that includes a busy three games this week and an even busier four games the following week, including a Monday and Wednesday tournament game at Creekside High School.
All regular season JV games tip off at 6:00 PM. Check this website for the starting times for the tournament games that will take place Jan. 18 & 20 at Creekside.