Special to the Recorder
One would be hard pressed to pen a better script for the Ponte Vedra varsity basketball team than for their efforts during the long holiday break.
Winners of five straight games, all on the road, the Sharks had highlights galore during their streak. On Wednesday, Jan. 4, the team earned their beloved Head Coach Bud Beech his 500th career win with a 53-48 victory over Westside at Ribault High School. Only a slim turnout of Shark faithful were in attendance to witness Beech’s milestone accomplishment on win number 500, but that was certainly not the case for win number 501 at Nease High School.
Before another packed and spirited throng of rooters for both teams on Friday, Jan. 6, the Sharks concluded their holiday journey with a thrilling 55-53 comeback victory against arch rival Nease.
The Sharks were a mediocre 2-3 to begin this season while waiting on the return to their roster of a pair of starters who were instrumental in the huge success of the PVHS football state runner-ups. Since senior JD Pirris and sophomore Reese Russi returned to the starting lineup, the Sharks have won seven of their last eight games to improve their season record to an impressive 9-4.
The only blip during that streak was their opening round defeat at the hands of Flagler Palm Coast when the Sharks had an uncharacteristically poor shooting night. It took the ‘Beech Boys’ less than 24 hours, however, to regain their shooting touch as four PVHS players reached double figures in their 65-56 win over Savannah (GA) Windsor Forest.
The following day showed why the Sharks had missed the services of Pirris and Russi when the back court pair teamed up for a combined 28 points in a 74-64 victory over Crescent City.
A pair of Nassau County opponents were the next to fall at the hands of the Sharks, who romped to a convincing 68-44 win over Baldwin High with Pirris (18) Eston Hensley (13) and Mike Nicandri (11) all in double figures. The Baldwin victory pushed Beech’s career win total to 499 heading into the next afternoon’s game vs. Westside. Playing hard for their veteran mentor, the Sharks took a commanding 46-29 lead into the final quarter before outlasting a belated Westside charge to prevail 53-48.
Although win number 500 had to be very satisfying for Beech, win number 501 against arch rival Nease was even better. As per any PVHS-Nease basketball game, the win didn’t come easy. The Sharks trailed by five points with less than two minutes remaining in the contest before embarking on their closing rally.
Trailing 53-48 with 1:36 left in the contest, and the Panthers in possession of the ball, the Sharks fought back. Eston Hensley drilled a two pointer to cut the Panther lead to three. After forcing a Panther turnover, Ponte Vedra’s Pirris connected to trim the deficit to a single point.
Nease, however, was still in charge and attempted to run out the clock. Yet another Nease turnover gave the Sharks a chance to take the lead with but 0:16 showing on the clock.
Pirris then took charge and began one of his patented drives to the basket. The veteran senior guard, after drawing a double team, dished a pass under the hoop to a cutting Chris Tomacewski.
The ‘Panther Killer’ Tomacewski made the reverse layup to give the Sharks the lead, and then made it a two-point margin when he made the free throw after being fouled. Nease was unable to answer and the Shark’s stormed the court in celebrating the victory.
Pirris had a monster game for the victors. Pirris led Shark scorers with 20 points, but even more important than his scoring was his work elsewhere. Although listed as a point guard, Pirris led the team in rebounds with nine and in assists with eight.
Hensley continued his great play with 13 points, six of those coming in the clutch in the game’s final quarter while Tomacewski came off the bench to score 12.