There is a shark warning in Lakeland, as the Ponte Vedra High boys basketball team defeated Winter Haven 57-54 to advance to the Class 6A state championship against Stuart Martin County at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
It was the Sharks’ defense that came through once again to preserve the victory. With the Sharks leading by three points, Winter Haven launched a pair of three pointers, but the first attempt was blocked as Luke Pirris got a piece of it and the second shot was an air ball as the buzzer sounded.
The tight-knit squad that has lived up to the definition of a team throughout the season did so yet again by responding to early adversity and trailing 17-12 after the first quarter.
It was the Sharks’ defensive effort that helped them close the gap, as they adjusted and only allowed Winter Haven six points in the second quarter and found themselves only down by one point, 23-22, at halftime.
Both teams played even in the second half, but it was the Sharks that showcased their grit and made more clutch shots than the Blue Devils down the stretch.
Ross Candelino and Luke Pirris each had a team-high 15 points and J.T. Kelly shined on several levels and finished with 14 points on the night.
Not only was Kelly feeling it offensively by knocking down three of four shots from beyond the arc and converting three of four shots from the free throw line, but he also had five assists and two steals.
The Sharks made eight three-pointers in the game, including three by Candelino, who shot 60% from the field.
Pirris reached 1,000 career points during the game to go with four rebounds, four steals and he drew a charge.
Sam Ritchie scored seven points off the bench for the Sharks, while Nathan Bunkosky led the team with six assists.