Ponte Vedra captures holiday tournament in Naples

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The Ponte Vedra Sharks made their long trip deep into southern Florida for a remarkable success by winning the Kelleher Law Holliday Hoopfest with a 64-57 victory over Evans High School of Orlando in the 16-team tournament finale.

The Sharks earned the right to play for the title following convincing wins over Gulf Coast (59-26), Doral Academy (60-31) and Somerset Prep (62-39). Meanwhile, Evans High, which welcomed back a number of their regulars who missed most of their previous games before the Naples tourney, completely overwhelmed their first three opponents by scores of 81-26, 86-72, and 67-29.

The final game between the two finalists lived up to its billing and then some, but balance scoring, airtight defense, the ability to protect the ball and some deadly free-throw shooting led to a Shark win and their seventh straight victory since tasting defeat earlier in the month at the Fortegra tournament.

The Sharks led, but barely at every stop, and held a slim 54-52 lead with 1:21 left in the contest.  It was at this juncture in the game when Evans was forced to foul as their athletic defenders were unable to steal a possession from the PVHS ball handlers. The Sharks then proceeded to make 10 clutch free throws without a miss to salt away the victory with Ross Candelino hitting all eight of his attempts with reserve Israel Nuhu netting his two tries.

The Sharks feature their own Fearsome Foursome of Luke Pirris, JT Kelly, Nathan Bunkosky and Candelino, and their talents were clearly on display in Naples. All four Sharks scored in double figures in each of the final three games of the tournament, but their scoring was only part of the story. Their trapping defense produced on average better-than-10 steals a game while on offense they committed fewer than seven turnovers per contest.

Third-year coach Kevin Whirty was lavish in praise of his team in a post-game TV interview following the contest.

Tournament MVP Nathan Bunkosky was quick to heap praise towards his coach while holding on to his trophy following the awards presentation.

Joining Bunkosky on the first team All-Tourney team was senior Luke Pirris, who’s game-leading 18 points in the championship game led all scorers. Candelino was added to the second team while defensive specialist and 3-point shooting specialist JT Kelly was added to the third team.

In addition to the four All-Tourney selections, the Sharks also received some steady play from three other players who were part of the seven-man rotation utilized by Whirity.

Junior Israel Nuhu gave the Sharks a spark off the bench with his rebounding and defense while senior Gus Jordheim and sophomore Sam Ritchie chipped in with some valuable minutes.

The victory gave the Sharks a record of 11-2, pushing them into the top five rating among all teams along the First Coast. The team improved on that Tuesday, Jan. 4, with a 52-29 victory over Atlantic Coast, bringing their record to 12-2.

The Sharks will return home on Friday, Jan. 8, when they host Bishop Kenny with a scheduled start time of 7:30 p.m.

Submitted by Jim Moyes

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