After an entire regular season and through two rounds of the playoffs, one thing for sure is that not much fazes the Ponte Vedra boys basketball team.
That was again evident as the Sharks defeated the visiting Crestview Bulldogs 57-49 during the regional semifinals Feb. 22.
The Sharks’ starting five includes four seniors and junior Nate Bunkosky, who is practically a senior with the experience he has in his career.
According to senior J.T. Kelly, the veteran presence the Sharks always have on the court is valuable in the playoffs because they are hungry, especially the seniors, to keep their high school careers going for as long as they can.
“When you’re out there on the court you look at the score and it makes it even more real,” Kelly said. “You know that if you don’t get your act together, you’re going to wake up tomorrow and there’s not going to be anymore practice or games.”
The Sharks found their rhythm early on and jumped out to a 14-3 lead after the first quarter.
Despite the Bulldogs stringing together scoring runs throughout the remainder of the game and successfully cutting into the Sharks’ advantage, the Sharks never lost the lead.
Instead, the Sharks answered every charge by the Bulldogs with a run of their own and were able to grab any momentum lost right back.
“We aren't fazed as much this year when other teams make their runs. We just know we have to keep playing our game," Kelly said. “We’re a resilient bunch.”
Ross Candelino made some crucial shots for the Sharks during their runs, including one segment of possessions where he knocked down consecutive three-pointers tucked away in the right corner and blocked a Bulldogs’ three-point attempt out of bounds on the defensive end.
His threes allowed the Sharks to take a 38-30 lead heading into the final quarter.
Candelino finished with 19 points to lead the way. Nate Bunkosky and Luke Pirris were not far behind with 15 and 14 points, respectively.
Bunkosky’s speed presented a problem for Crestview’s guards who struggled to keep up with him when he drove to the basket, while Pirris was a force to be reckoned with in the paint.
“I’ve always been comfortable in the paint,” Pirris said. “That’s where I earn my work.”
The Sharks worked all regular season and through the district tournament to be in the position to earn the top seed in the region come postseason time, and it is now paying off, as a large contingent of students came to the Shark Tank and made their presence felt throughout the contest.
"It's huge having our fans here and then having the atmosphere rocking," Pirris said.