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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.
Please note that rosters for 2015-16 are now posted on our website. Just go to the link: Teams/Rosters.
Here is the link where parents, players, and fans can purchase PVHS apparel: