Ponte Vedra’s long run comes to an end


This past season’s Ponte Vedra boys’ basketball team produced not only their longest run in post-season history, but unquestionably the most unfathomable in their eighth year of basketball.

And just as their previous long journey into the regionals during the 2011-12 season ended with an overtime loss, the same bitter fate occurred Friday night with a heartbreaking overtime defeat at the hand of Zephyrhills.

With only two players returning from their previous season, even the most optimistic of Shark supporters, would never in their wildest imagination, have been led to believe that this team would come one point shy of advancing to the state final four.

Such was the case, however, as this very young but gritty Shark squad forced a heavily favored Zephyrhills team into overtime with the game tied at 59-59, only to see the hosts capture their 27th win of the season, and their 16th straight victory on their home court, with a 76-68 victory.

Although Ponte Vedra Beach is certainly not recognized as one of Florida’s poorer communities, nevertheless, the 10 Shark roster players, coach, and manager boarded their humble yellow school bus for the long 3 hour plus journey to Zephyrhills.

Judging by the Sharks’ first quarter performance, the long bus ride proved to be no hindrance for Coach Bud Beech’s cagers. In front of a sold out and boisterous crowd, the majority of whom screaming for a hometown victory, the Sharks may have played their best first quarter of the season in racing out to a 21-8 lead.

Everybody got in on the fun in the opening eight minutes as six Sharks scored, with Junior JD Pirris leading the explosive start with seven points.

The Sharks built their lead to 14 points early into the second quarter before the hosts began to chip away at the Sharks’ lead.

The Bulldogs all state candidate, 6’2” senior guard Jeremy Oppenheimer, scored 10 second quarter points, including a pair of long range three-point bombs as the Sharks 14 point lead was cut in half at 34-27.

Ponte Vedra’s out court shooting cooled off considerably in the third quarter, and although Shark defensive ace Matt Johnson held Oppenheimer scoreless in the period, the Bulldogs got some unexpected help from his backcourt partner, Jackie Tucker.

Entering the game with a modest five points per game average, Tucked scored eight of Zephyrhills 16 points, while the Sharks could only counter with 10, as PVHS trailed for the first time in the game, 44-43 at the break.

The Sharks appeared doomed when, with only 0:45 left in the game, found themselves trailing 58–54 and the Bulldogs in possession of the ball.

Junior Chris Tomacewski then came up huge for the Sharks with a steal, a layup, and converted the free throw while fouled in the process to give the Sharks renewed hope, trailing 58-57.

Senior Matt Johnson then came up with one of his 4 steals on the evening to give the Sharks a golden opportunity.

Johnson’s teammate had a good ‘look’ but the three-point shot missed the mark with less than 20 seconds showing on the clock. Ponte Vedra quickly fouled to send Zephyrhills’ Aliza Quiles to the line. Quiles had missed 4 earlier free throws but came through in the clutch, making the first free throw, but missing the second, giving the Sharks renewed hope trailing by only two points.

JD Pirris then penetrated and kicked the ball out to a wide open Shark player behind the three point arc.

Unfortunately for the good number of Shark fans in attendance, the shot, to perhaps win the game, was wide of the mark. However, JD came down with the important rebound and was fouled.

With all the pressure seemingly in the world on Ponte Vedra’s candidate for the St. Johns County Player of the Year, Pirris calmly sank both free throws to send the game into overtime and stun the large home crowd.

The Sharks quickly took the lead in overtime at 61-59 on a Matt Johnson driving layup, but then disaster fell on the hard luck Sharks.

Johnson incurred severe leg cramps in making his shot and had to sit out the next couple of minutes with his injury.

Notwithstanding Johnson had contributed nine points, four steals and a game high seven assists, his most valuable asset to the team does not show up in the box score.

Although the Bulldogs Oppenheimer had scored 21 points in regulation, the Zephyrhills gunner fired up an astounding total of 27 shots during the contest, most of those forced with Johnson clinging to him like a sweaty T-shirt.

With Matt on the sidelines, Oppenheimer went wild and scored nine points in the overtime session and the Shark’s magical season came to a crushing end.

JD Pirris was once again brilliant for the Sharks with 27 points and 10 rebounds.

Of the Shark total of 68 points scored in the contest, 59 of those tallies were scored by Shark underclassmen. Junior Jack Shannon pitched in with 10, Chris Tomacewski had seven, as did Lance Kren, who also pulled down seven rebounds.

Junior Eston Hensley addedsix6 points while 6’7” sophomore Jack Johnson scored two points while blocking four Bulldog shots.

Coach Beech has just concluded his 31st year of coaching and perhaps summed up the season best with a post-game conversation with a local reporter. “In my career, I’ve never seen a team improve as much from the first half of the season to the end.”

Now, instead of only two players returning as experienced by this year’s team, what loom’s ahead with all but one player coming back for next year? Stay tuned.