Ponte Vedra’s boys basketball heads into holiday break at 4-4


After a dubious start to the Ponte Vedra boys basketball season with the team dropping four games against top-notch competition, the Sharks have stormed back with three straight victories to even their season record at 4-4 as they head into the holiday break.

How strong were those four opponents who dealt defeats to the Sharks? Providence, Bishop Kenny, Creekside and Palatka boast a combined record of 25 wins against only three defeats through Dec. 16.

Only in the Creekside game on Dec. 1, in which frigid third quarter shooting doomed the Sharks, was Ponte Vedra outclassed by an opponent. The Sharks can only lament that with a couple of breaks, their record could easily stand at an impressive 6-2.

Trailing PVHS by three points with just two seconds showing on the clock, Bishop Kenny scored on a desperation shot from near midcourt to send the game into overtime, a Dec. 5 game the stunned Sharks would eventually lose 64-61. Early foul trouble, and some contentious officiating calls that sent Ponte Vedra’s senior standout Jack Johnson to the sidelines, may have been the difference in a slim 63-61 loss to Palatka on Dec. 6.

The Sharks even hung tough on Nov. 30 against Providence, a state finalist from last season. The Sharks pulled to as close as four points in the final quarter before the perennial power pulled away late to secure a 56-47 victory.

Before beginning their four-game skid, the Sharks hosted a very strong Oakleaf team in the season opener on Nov. 28, winning a thrilling 46-45 contest against the visitors from Clay County. Since their loss to the Sharks, Oakleaf has won five of their next six games, with their only loss coming at the hands of Creekside, arguably the area’s top team.

The Sharks began their very productive week Dec. 11 with a 50-44 win over a well-coached Bartram Trail squad. The visiting Bears had no answer for the Sharks’6-foot-8-inch Jack Johnson, as the senior center poured in 23 points and pulled down 9 rebounds to help snap the four-game skid.

Playing without three of their starters, the Sharks defeated an athletic Matanzas team the following night 52-46, with Johnson’s 20 points, eight rebounds and seven blocked shots leading the way in the district contest.

The Sharks concluded their busy but productive last week of action by saving their best effort for last. In front of a near capacity crowd at the Shark tank on Dec. 15, the Sharks won a decisive 56-31 game over their neighbors from Nease. 

It marked the 20th meeting between the two local schools over the past decade. Although Nease won the first seven contests between the archrivals, the Sharks have now won seven of the last nine meetings, with Friday’s convincing win the widest margin of victory by either team in the series.

Nine Sharks dented the well-balanced scoring column with freshman Caden Fordham leading the way with 11 points and five steals. The Sharks came out on fire to begin the third quarter by racing out to a 17-0 run to remove any hopes of a Nease comeback.

Reese Russi recovered from the flu to play his best game of the season. The 6-foot-2-inch junior chipped in with 10 points by making four of his five shots from the field and assisted Johnson on the boards with six rebounds.

A vastly improved Jack Johnson has certainly been the catalyst for the recent Shark upsurge. Now in his third season on the Sharks’ roster, Johnson leads the Sharks in most of the statistical departments, with his 15 points and 9 rebounds per outing putting him on a near double-double pace. However, it is his defensive prowess that clearly stands out.         

Boasting a wing-span of an oversized albatross, Johnson has been a rim protector that has rarely been seen in Shark country since the senior season of Beau Beech. Johnson has already rejected 50 of his opponents’ attempted shots, a stunning average of better than six blocks per game.

The Sharks have endured this current winning streak despite the absence of three players who were in the starting lineup to begin the season. After playing in three games, senior Will Mons has been forced to his rest his ailing knees, while juniors Ben Houser (broken finger) and Reese Russi (flu) have also been sidelined of late.

In their absence, veteran coach Bud Beech has received some solid play from a pair of underclassmen, Kyle Barker and Caden Fordham. Barker, after being held scoreless in a couple of brief appearances, came off the bench against Palatka and recorded 18 points in the Sharks’ near come from behind contest with that team.

With the recent onslaught of injuries, Fordham has become the first Shark to start a game as a freshman since Jackson Johnson, currently playing at Tulane, moved into the starting lineup during the 2010-11 season. Showing no fear, Fordham, a two-sport star and the son of former NFL standout Todd Fordham, has been clutch down the stretch in Ponte Vedra’s two most recent wins.

Yet another player from last year’s 19-3 JV team has shown remarkable improvement over the offseason. Logan Conway has settled in as a steady performer. The junior swingman has averaged a consistent eight points and leads the Sharks in steals with 19.

Beech has seen the emergence of three football players get their basketball legs in shape this past week, helping solidify the defense. Fordham, Barker and junior Nick Pirris have teamed up with junior guard Johnny Corlazzoli to create havoc over their opponents with their quick hands and swiftness.

The Sharks resume action tonight (Thursday, Dec. 21) when they begin play in the Providence Christmas Tournament. Tip-off for the first of three guaranteed games in the tourney is set for an 8:30 p.m. start at the Providence gymnasium against the First Academy of Orlando.