Momentum on Sharks’ side as playoffs await

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The Ponte Vedra Sharks are heading down the home stretch with momentum on their side following their recent slate of games, improving their season record to an impressive 17 wins against two losses. The three remaining games on the season against top-notch competition should help the Sharks get battle tested for the playoffs looming just days ahead.

As this story goes to press, it may be a surprise to many that the Sharks are sporting such a remarkable record, but perhaps more surprising is that they have played 20 games during this unprecedented season while dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. Second-year head coach Kevin Whirity is quick to lay praise for seeing basketball in 2020-2021 become possible.

Whirity first lauded the fall coaches, who proved early on they could maintain compliance with Covid protocols and procedures. 

“With that being said, I am still surprised that our season has been so uninterrupted, and am very grateful that our players, especially our seniors, have been able to experience a full season,” Whirity said.

Ponte Vedra’s cagers were 3-1 in their last four contests. Only a hard-fought road loss to perennial power Providence prevented the Sharks from another two-week sweep without tasting defeat. The Sharks led at halftime over the host Stallions, but a turnover-prone third quarter turned the tide in favor of Providence. 

However, the Sharks would not suffer a letdown after their loss to Providence as they posted consecutive victories over Ridgeview, Bartram Trail and Westside.

Unquestionably, the keys for success for this year’s Sharks team has been their suffocating defense. In back-to-back win over Ridgeview and Bartram Trail, the Sharks stole the ball 21 times in each win, a full six steals more than any other PVHS team has recorded in the school’s brief 11-year history. So stingy was the Sharks’ defense against Bartram Trail that the Bears failed to score a single point in the second quarter and only 20 for the entire game.

It was Senior Night for the Sharks last Friday against Westside and Whirity played only seniors for the first quarter of the contest that found the Sharks forced to dig out of a 21-10 hole. The regulars then took the floor to begin the second quarter and they began to slowly chip away at the double-digit deficit. 

Although it was Senior Night, when the Sharks finally took their first lead early in the fourth quarter it was a quartet of underclassmen who put on one of the best 30 seconds of basketball displayed in front of the home fans. Sophomore Israel Nuhu took a perfect pass from junior Luke Pirris and scored on a thunderous dunk to give the Sharks a 42-41 lead. Seconds later, Pirris went high to snare a rebound following a Nuhu blocked shot and quickly found sophomore Nate Bunkosky with the outlet pass.  Nate threw a crosscourt pass to junior JT Kelly, who calmly swished a 3-pointer to build the lead to four.

It was then time for the seniors to take charge on their night, and it was Alex Madson and Rory Mayer who delivered in the clutch in overtime to nail down the hard-earned victory. The 65 points from the defensive-minded sharks were their highest point total so far on the season and they needed every one of those points as Westside was a blistering hot 9 for 14 from 3-point range.

Madson, Mayer and Jack Polian have been the heart and soul of this year’s team and will be sorely missed by Whirity when next season rolls around. 

“Those three have been named captains for this team for their passion, effort, leadership and so many other roles they display every day,” Whirity added. 

The Sharks begin their final games of the season against a trio of tough opponents beginning with a road contest Friday. Jan. 29, against a 10-5 Bishop Kenny team. Next Tuesday, the Sharks will travel to 16-4 Episcopal before returning home for a regular season Friday night finale against arch-rival Nease (13-4).

“Our motto for the final stretch and into the playoffs is ‘it doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger,’” Whirity said.

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