Special to the Recorder
The Nease Panthers swept both contests with their rivals from Ponte Vedra this season after topping the visiting Sharks 45-35 on Friday, Feb. 7.
Just as they did in their first outing with the Sharks, the Panthers came from behind in the fourth quarter to pull out the victory before another near-capacity crowd at Nease. The sweep for the Panthers was their first pair of victories over PVHS since the 2009-10 season. The victory now boosts Nease all time edge in the tightly fought series to 14-12.
The final 10-point margin did not reflect how tight the game was. With 1:09 left in the game, the Panthers held a slim two-point lead before scoring the final eight points, all from the free-throw line.
The Panthers started fast and finished strong as they now take their 15-7 record and top seed in district play this week into the FHSAA playoffs. Nease jumped out to an early 15-5 lead, aided by eight first-quarter points from senior guard Kyle Baidas.
The visiting Sharks fought back to outscore Nease 13-4 in the second quarter to trail by a single point at halftime. Nothing was decided in the third quarter as Nease took a slim 28-27 lead into the game’s final period.
The Sharks took their first lead early into the fourth quarter on a 2-pointer by freshman guard Nathan Bunkosky, but that lead would be short-lived. The Sharks’ leading scorer on the season, sophomore Luke Pirris, then picked up his fourth foul that sent him to the bench. Pirris would return with less than 2 minutes remaining where he netted 1-of-2 free throws to pull the Sharks within two points of Nease at 37-35.
That would prove to be the final point earned by the Sharks, who came up empty shooting from the field the rest of the way, missing all nine of their last shots. After not making a single free throw in four attempts entering the final quarter, the Panthers netted nine in a row during crunch time to pull away.
Baidas, for the second year in a row, proved to be a thorn in the side of the Sharks. The sharp shooting guard led his Panthers in scoring with a season-high 17 points, the same total he tallied in Nease’s win over its rivals last season. Baidas’ running mate in the backcourt, Payton Nordness, was also in double figures with 11 points.
Coach Josh Bailen’s squad also won the rebounding battle with the Sharks by a 30-20 margin. No Sharks players were in double figures, with Bunkosky and Pirris coming close with nine points each.
The second-seeded Sharks (10-14) were eliminated from the District 4-5A playoffs after a 47-42 loss to Seabreeze on Tuesday night.
The top-seeded Panthers (15-7) hosted Mandarin in the District 1-7A semifinals Wednesday night. The game wasn’t over by press time.