Special to the Recorder
The Ponte Vedra Sharks will end their regular season with the same record as posted a year ago following their 55-50 loss to arch rival Nease last Friday night.
A near-capacity crowd packed the Shark Tank at the high school, watching as the Nease Panthers played an inspired and near-perfect 30 minutes of basketball. The Panthers were apparently on their way to a convincing victory as they led the Sharks by a commanding 44-34 margin with less than two minutes remaining.
The Sharks then employed a go-for-broke full court press on the visiting Panthers that culminated 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 seven 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 four-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 seasons’ back at Ponte Vedra High School that came to the rescue for Nease. Senior Addison Shaw, who played on the Ponte Vedra JV team two years ago, made a huge three-pointer one minute into the overtime period that gave the lead to Nease at 47-44.
Ponte Vedra, which ended the final moments of regulation on fire, then went into a deep freeze and began hastily firing up three-point shots that consistently missed the mark. Forced to foul, the Panthers’ Shaw and Ethan Ilagan made the Sharks pay by calmly netting six consecutive free throws to seal the Sharks’ fate. A couple of late field goals by 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.
The Sharks’ 15-10 record to end the regular season mirrors last season’s mark as they journeyed to Palatka 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. If the Sharks came out victorious in Wednesday’s game then they return to Palatka Friday for the district championship game.