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2014 Ponte Vedra Sharks - District Champs 21-6

February 16, 2014

Sharks end Successful Season with OT loss to Baker County 

It was not the ending Ponte Vedra’s boys basketball was looking for in their regional opener with Baker County last Thursday, but the never say die Sharks came a split second from pulling off a stunner over a team that was an imposing 23-4 heading into the tourney.

Trailing by 4 points with only 0:48 second left in the contest Ponte Vedra’s senior point guard Jackson Johnson nearly single-handedly pulled the Sharks to victory.  Johnson nailed a 3 pointer to narrow the margin to 1 but the visitors quickly countered with two made free throws to take a 3-point lead. 

Johnson drove the length of the court and somehow managed to strong arm in a contested short range runner, despite being fouled by Baker County’s CeCe Jefferson, a 6’4 football superstar rated one of the top prep football players in the country.

Ironically Johnson, who has made more free throws than any other player on the First Coast, missed his free throw that would have tied the score with 0:34 seconds left on the clock. 

Not to be deterred, the gritty Johnson stole the ball underneath the Shark’s basket and curled in a reverse lay-up to give the Sharks a 1-point lead 50-49.

Baker County’s Charles Ruise then was fouled with 0:14 showing on the clock and the junior gunner converted on one of his two free throws to tie up the heated contest at 50-50. 

Time for one last shot for the Sharks to pull off the come back, Johnson’s shot in heavy traffic rimmed off the cylinder. Ponte Vedra’s Pay Boylan tipped in the missed shot but, unfortunately for the Shark faithful that again packed the Shark Tank, the tap in came just moments after the final buzzer went off, sending the contest into overtime.

With Shark regulars Donovan Garrard and Ross McCarthy on the bench in overtime after having fouled out of the contest, the Sharks had little left in their tank during the four-minute overtime and fell to Baker Co 66-54. 

Not to be overlooked in the season finale was the outstanding success the Sharks had during this 2013-14 season.  The 21 victories easily surpassed their previous season high of 17 set two years earlier.

In district play the Sharks were a perfect 10-0 on the season, a district championship and three straight victories over perennial power Palatka.

Perhaps most important, the Sharks brought the fan interest in PV basketball to a fever pitch with near sell out crowds packing the local gymnasium during the second half of the season. 

Outgoing senior star guard Jackson Johnson summed it up best with a quote following the game to the media:  “I’m really happy of how the program has grown.  We went from having crowds of 75 (when he was a freshman starter) to now having crowds of 1000.”

Johnson certainly went out in style.  Playing his final game in a Shark uniform, the gritty Johnson, who will play at the next level for Tulane University, --- not in basketball--- but baseball, scored the final 11 points for the Sharks and came up with 6 assists and 6 steals.

The difference in the game was at the free throw line and the poor Shark shooting from behind the three-point arc.  Baker County attempted 26 free throws for the game, making good on 20 of those shots, compared to the Sharks lowly 6 attempts.

The normally sharp shooting Sharks had an uncharacteristic poor performance from long range, netting but 6 of their 29 three-point shots.

Johnson ended his career with 16 points, with Quinn Carey adding 15 and Matt McGuier 11, all in the first half.

Head coach Bud Beech and his valuable assistant Marcus Perez can take comfort in losing but two players from this year’s rotation, Johnson and James Crowther. 

With many regulars set to return in 2014-15, headed by front line starters Quinn Carey, Ross McCarthy and Donovan Garrard, as well has some promising newcomers from this years outstanding Junior Varsity team, Shark followers are all set to again see some outstanding basketball for years to come.

2013-14 Sharks JV Basketball Team

District Champs host Baker Co Thursday

Another jam packed and highly partisan crowd jammed the Shark Tank Friday evening where they were treated to another exciting Ponte Vedra victory, 72-67 over a talented Palatka squad.

The win was the 21st win on the season for the Sharks and the 3rd on the season over a Panther team that made it into the final four a year ago.

More importantly, the win was for the 5A District Championship, insuring the Sharks of hosting a first round regional game February 13 against Baker Co.

It was a hard fought and well-played game by both teams with the Sharks outscoring Palatka in each quarter, but never by more than a 2-point margin in any of the periods.

The visitors from Palatka took the lead at 19-18 early into the second quarter, but the Sharks countered with a shot in the paint from James Crowther to take a 1-point lead, a lead they would never relinquish the rest of the evening.

Although Crowther was experiencing a rare off night, by connecting on but 2 of his 11 field goal attempts, it was the 6’1 senior’s play just before the halftime buzzer that may have turned the tide in the Shark’s favor.

After Palatka 6’5 forward Desmond Chandler missed a slam dunk with just 11 seconds remaining in the half, giving the ball back to the Sharks, Crowther surely didn’t miss his dunk.

With 1.2 seconds left on the clock, Crowther leaped high in the air to slam dunk home a missed 3-point attempt of Jackson Johnson, not only giving the Sharks a 30-27 edge at the break, but sending a capacity crowd into a frenzy and giving the Sharks a big dose of confidence entering the second half.

6’4 junior sharpshooter Quinn Carey tallied 13 of his 22 points in the first half to keep the Sharks on top with Johnson scoring 7 and 6’5 Junior Donovan Garrard adding 6 markers.The 3rd quarter was much like the previous 2 quarters with the Sharks at one point enjoying a 7 point edge at 47-40, only to see the always hustling Panthers rally to close the gap to 4, 49-45 heading into the final quarter.

Johnson netted 8 of the Shark points in the quarter with Garrard muscling his 6’5 frame underneath to tally 6 of his game total of 12.

Johnson and Carey each drilled 3-pointers at the onset of the final quarter to give the Sharks a 57-47 lead, their biggest lead they would enjoy during the contest. 

Palatka coach Don Lockhart then had his Panthers take their already stifling full court-pressing defense and turn it up yet another notch.

The Panthers fought hard and created three turnovers that they would convert into baskets to bring Palatka within 3 points at 64-61 with 2:37 remaining.  However, the Sharks never lost their composure, quickly breaking the Panther press with an easy lay-up basket by Ross McCarthy to lead 66-61.

Among the spectators in attendance was Ponte Vedra Beach resident and basketball icon Christian Laettner.  Surely the former member of that 1992 Olympic Dream team thought of his former teammate Bobby Hurley at Duke when the Sharks put the ball into Jackson Johnson’s hands.

Forced to foul, as even double team traps would not work against Johnson, Jackson went to the foul line 10 times in the quarter, and made 9 of his free throws.  Ironically, his one miss ended his streak of consecutive free throws made at 33 straight. 

A last moment three-point bomb by Palatka’s Chandler made the final score read 72-67 as once again the students swarmed the court to congratulate their Shark classmates. 

Johnson, who scored 26 points against Palatka in their previous meeting two weeks earlier, once again was a thorn in the side to the Panthers by scoring a game high 27 points, while dishing off 10 assists, 3 steals, and only committing 3 turnovers against a very tough Palatka defense.

Quinn Carey continued his terrific play by having another outstanding game for the district champs.  Carey scored 22 points, hitting on 5 of his 8 shots from 3-point land, pulled down 9 rebounds and did an outstanding job of helping the Sharks break the tenacious Panther press.

And although he scored a modest 6 points, James Crowther’s last field goal he scored on the evening ---the monster dunk just before the halftime break --- just might have been the most important basket of what has turned into the most successful basketball season in Ponte Vedra’s brief history.

The Sharks will now set their sites on Baker Co., who will come to Ponte Vedra on Thursday night with a season record of 24 wins, against but 3 defeats. 

One of those defeats was in their district final game Friday night against Bishop Kenny, a game they lost by but 1 point in overtime.

Bishop Kenny scored 2 free throws with one second remaining to upset Baker Co. and send them on the road to play at the Shark Tank Thursday in front of what surely will be another tumultuous crowd.

If the Sharks can post the upset over Baker Co, they will then again be the host team and would play the winner of the game between Bishop Kenny and Palatka on Saturday the 15th at 7:00 PM.

 For now Ponte Vedra Coach Bud Beech and Palatka coach Don Lockhart are surely not looking past Thursday and yet another battle between these two evenly matched teams.





Shark JVs post Impressive 15-4 Record

To say that the future of Ponte Vedra Boys basketball is alive and well would be a gross understatement.

To finish a season with an overall record of 15 wins, while tasting defeat only four times, is in itself most impressive, but to accomplish this mark with a team comprised principally of freshman is remarkable.

Three of the JVs four losses came by 3 points or less, and for the entire season they outscored their opponents by a convincing 16 points per game.

It is common knowledge that a number of Junior Varsity teams will have a rotation of 6-8 players, and then rounding out their roster with players who have little hope of contributing.

This was certainly not the case for the 2013-14 Sharks as coach Dustin Latta had 12 players who all could play, and play well. 

All the players on the Shark roster started at least one game during the campaign and eight of coach Dustin Latta’s well-balanced squad had at least one outing in which they scored in double figures.

Although the entire roster made major contributions throughout the season, three players clearly stood out in the stat department.

Lance Kren (207 points), Matt Johnson (191) and JD Pirrus (186) had consistent performances throughout the season while Tyler Perez (114) also managed to top the century mark in points scored.  Only Johnson is a sophomore.

Kren also topped all Shark rebounders with 109 with Johnson close behind with 101. Johnson easily led the JVs in assists with 84 and steals with 54.

Two of the Shark losses came at the hands of Bartram Trail, losing the first game on a buzzer beater and the second contest by only 3 points.  Bartram Trail would finish the season with only one defeat.

The highlight of the season surely was the Sharks showing in Palatka when they completely dominated the talented Panthers 64-41.  It might have been the only game during the entire season when coach Latta went with a rotation where only 7 players saw action.

However, when the Panthers faced the Sharks again later in the season, Palatka reversed the table by handing the Sharks one of their rare defeats.  The Sharks were colder than a frigid polar vortex from the field beyond the 3-point arc, shooting a paltry 3-21 in the return engagement.

With nine of the 12-man roster being ninth graders, it will be interesting to witness their progression during the off-season, not only in improving on their basketball skills, but also in their normal growth development..

Only four seniors from this season’s outstanding varsity team will graduate this year, two of which were starters, with both being backcourt performers.

A huge vacancy will be created on the varsity team for the 2014-15 season with the departure of four-year starting point guard Jackson Johnson, one of the most outstanding ball handlers in the state of Florida.

It is very possible that these backcourt vacancies could be filled by one of Coach Latta’s current JV squad.

Listed below is a thumbnail sketch of this year’s JV team in numerical order: 

No. 1 - Fr. JD Pirrus:  JD, the cover boy for this weeks Ponte Vedra Recorder,  is an outstanding athlete, 3rd on the team in scoring and a top-notch rebounder for a backcourt performer.  Pirrus runs the court very well and is very adept at finishing on his driving lay-ups.  The 6’0 freshman could very well challenge for a spot on next year’s varsity rotation with a lot of hard work in the off season. JD is hopeful of improving on his out court shooting over the summer months, as he was only a 16% shooter from long range.

No.3 – Fr. Michael Nicandri: Michael is arguably the best ball handler on the JV team who quickly worked his way into the starting lineup.  If the 5’2 Nicandri can add a few inches to his growth over the next few months he could certainly contend for a spot as Jackson’s Johnson replacement at the point guard in future years.  Michael, despite his small stature, is a very good on the ball defender and was 3rd on the JVs in steals.

No. 4 – Fr. Reid Smith:  Reid is another one of those very good athletes on this team who made vast improvements over the course of the season after suffering a minor injury back in November.  It is likely that Reid will be the point guard on next season’s JV squad where he hopes to develop some better shooting skills. (0-13 on 3-point attempts). 

No 12- Soph Matt Johnson:  The younger brother of Shark 4-year starter Jackson Johnson, Matt made huge improvements to his game from his freshman season.  Johnson has a high basketball IQ and contributes in all phases of the game.  Although only 5’10 in height, Johnson has great leaping ability as evident by his team high 16 rebounds against Palatka.  An off-season regimen of weight training, and tuning up on his ball handling skills, could earn Matt some major minutes on next year’s varsity team 

No 13 – Soph Quint Boyd:  Perhaps the fastest player on this year’s JV squad, Boyd was sometimes a little too fast and had trouble finishing his breakaway lay-ups.  Quint always brought a ton of energy onto the court, as his style is very similar to that of the varsity’s James Crowther.  Quint, however, must improve on his shooting skills during the off-season.  If so, he could very well fill the role that the graduating Crowther played this year.

No 20:  Soph Zac Murphy:  Standing at 6’2 or better, Zac may have been the tallest JV player from this year’s squad.  Zac was not shy about firing away from beyond the 3-point arc, and even led the team in 3-point shooting percentage this year.  Zac must get stronger and more aggressive to contribute next year as he only attempted one foul shot over the entire season.  Murphy has hit for double figures in a game this season and, with a growth spurt and added strength, could play a role on the varsity team in 2014-15.

No 21: Fr. Clay Welch:  Clay saw action in all 19 games this year, and often cracked the lineup in a starting role.  Welch twice was in double figures in scoring and was especially effective in running the floor and playing some solid defense.  Welch is another one of those very athletic Shark JV players who will more than likely fill a starting role with next year’s JV team.

No 22:  Fr. Chris Tomaszewski:  Chris is another one of those athletic Sharks with a football body who has chosen basketball as his chosen sport.  Chris runs the floor very well and is hopeful of improving on his shooting skills and ball handling in the off-season in an attempt to crack the starting lineup on the JV team next season. For his limited minutes played this year, Tomaszewski had a very high percentage of rebounds.

No 23:  Fr. Tyler Perez:  Coming from a very athletic family, Tyler is projected to perform a huge role on future Shark basketball teams over the next three years.  Perez experienced a rapid growth rate over the last 12 months, a rate that could continue into next season.  Perez is a good ball handler and has a mindset of a scorer.  Perez could give the Sharks the luxury of having a big man who can handle the ball, much like Beau Beech did for the Sharks during his outstanding career. Tyler’s biggest challenge is to development a better rotation to his shot from out court.

No 34: Fr. Rowan Fitch:  Rowan has a very soft touch with his shots from inside the 15 foot range and even led the JV team in free throw percentage.  A member of the regular rotation throughout the season, Fitch was a valuable performer for the Sharks, mainly in a relief role.  Rowan goes up strong for the rebounds and, once he secured control, was able to find an open teammate.  When Rowan acquires the trait of playing a little bit more ‘loose’ on the court, he could be a future Shark contributor for what is now a very solid program.

No 35: Fr Dean McCarthy:  The younger brother of varsity starting front line player Ross McCarthy, Dean’s progression took a step back this year by missing a number of games, as well as practices, over the Holiday break.  However, one can see that Dean has vast potential to aid the Sharks in the coming seasons.  McCarthy is adept at going hard to the basket and shows no fear while on the court. With an off-season of hard work McCarthy could be a big plus for the Shark JV team in the upcoming season.

No 41:  Fr Lance Kren:  Lance was the leading rebounder and scorer on this year’s Shark team and was a very consistent performer all season.  Kren has advanced ‘post’ move skills as a freshman and a very soft shooting touch from short range.  Ponte Vedra coaches are hopeful that Kren will add some needed inches to his 6’1 frame so his post skills can best be utilized at the next level.  The Sharks return their starting varsity front line from this year’s team; a front line that should see more additional depth with the addition of Lance Kren.

It will be very interesting how many of these young Sharks will move up to the varsity during the next school year. There can be little doubt, however, that from those young Sharks who will be returning to the JVs next year, coupled with the additional players from this year’s talented Landrum Middle School team, there should no shortage of talent on the JV team for the years to come.

Just In! 2013-14 JV Season in Review
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Ponte Vedra Sharks Boys Basketball

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