Sharks hoping to peak as regular season nears end


Special to the Recorder

The return to the lineup of leading scorer JD Pirris will be most welcomed by the Ponte Vedra Sharks this week.

 With Pirris on the court the Sharks can boast of a 8-1 record as the All-Area performer returns to action Tuesday night when Ponte Vedra travels to Clay County. It will be a busy week for the Sharks: On Friday, the “Beech Boys” will have the daunting task of defeating the First Coast’s number one-ranked team when they play at perennial power Providence High.  

 The return to action by Pirris can come none too soon for Ponte Vedra, as only six games remain in the regular season before the PHSAA playoffs begin Feb. 7 in Palatka.

 Although the Sharks were shorthanded without the services of senior point guard Mike Nicandri and Pirris, Coach Beech had to be pleased with the improvement shown by a number of his Shark players. In the Sharks’ Jan. 19 loss at always tough Bishop Kenny, Beech saw one of his three sophomores, Ben Houser, score a career-high 12 points in a 83-69 loss to the Crusaders. Sophomore center Luke Martin (6’5”) demonstrated that he could become a major contributor during the upcoming playoffs, with a fine showing in their losing cause at Matanzas. A very aggressive Martin tossed in 13 points, while yet another promising sophomore, Reese Russi, has played very well of late after moving into a starting guard position.

 The Sharks began the week with a 61-53 district win over Menendez, avenging an earlier loss to the Falcons in early December. The win also guarantees the Sharks the number one seed in the upcoming playoffs.  

 With the score all even at 25-25 at halftime, the Sharks outscored the hosts 19-8 in the third period and then withstood a late Menendez rally to post their 13th win of the season against but five defeats. Senior Eston Hensley and Russi led the charge in the third quarter by scoring 14 of the Sharks’ 19 tallies.

 In their next game at Bishop Kenny, the Sharks were unlucky to face the 2016 state finalist at the top of their game. In the loss to BK, the Sharks gave up the most points scored against them all season. Ponte Vedra did hold a short-lived lead at 25-24 early into the second quarter, only to let their guard down as Bishop Kenny went on a decisive 13-3 run en route to a 83-69 defeat of the Sharks.

 The Sharks had to be well aware that they would have tough sledding against a vastly improved Matanzas team that dropped their earlier game at the Sharks 70-64. However, playing without the services of Pirris, who netted 23 points in that first contest, the Sharks fell to an inspired Matanzas team that jumped out to an early 11-0 lead en route to the victory.

 The Sharks were able to regroup, thanks to a 21-11 third quarter, to narrow the gap to 47-43 heading into the final quarter. However, the well-coached Matanzas squad never lost their poise as they netted 14 of their 20 fourth quarter points at the free throw line to hold off the Sharks.

 After playing 13 of their last 14 games away from the Shark Tank, the Sharks will welcome their return home on Wednesday when they have a return engagement with Bartram Trail.  Prior to their visit from Bartram the Sharks have high hopes of taking undisputed possession of the top seed in district play with a victory at Clay. A loss would drop the Sharks into a tie with Palatka, each with a 5-3 record. The Sharks would earn the top seed, however, as they defeated Palatka twice during the regular season.

 A bright spot for the Sharks over the past few games has been the consistent play from 6’0” senior Jack Shannon, who languished on the bench throughout his sophomore season on the Junior Varsity. Shannon has improved his game to the point where he will soon finish among the all-time leaders in Shark history.

 Shannon has scored in double figures in each of his last five games, including a 20-point performance in the losing cause at Matanzas. He has also added another element to his game, complementing his outstanding shooting from three-point land with slashing moves to the basket that often find him then shooting free throws. 

 With Shannon playing at the top of his game, and with the improved play from the team’s sophomores, the Sharks have high hopes of peaking at the right time as tournament time rapidly approaches.