Sharks punch ticket to second straight final four


Ponte Vedra is headed back to the Final Four for the second straight season thanks to their 72-61 victory over Gainesville High in a regional final played in Ponte Vedra Feb. 24. 

After losing four starters from last years’ state runner-up team, the Sharks reloaded as they just got better as the season progressed.

Case in point - the Sharks were overwhelmed by Gainesville in an earlier pre-season clash by 16 points.

Setting the tone on the evening was the lone starter back from last season’s team, Nate Bunkosky.

The four-year starter and invaluable point guard ignited the Sharks victory in the opening quarter by drilling a trio of three-pointers as the home team busted out to an early 21-12 lead.

The visiting Hurricanes bounced back to close the gap to 32-31 at the halftime break, and even took a short-lived lead in the third quarter.

With some precision passing and even better shooting, the Sharks reclaimed the lead thanks to a pair of made three-pointers from juniors Sam Ritchie and Brendon Hynes to take a 51-43 lead into the game’s final eight minutes.

Bunkosky got the Sharks off on the right foot in the final quarter by notching a three-pointer to pad their lead to 11 points at 54-43.  

The closest Gainesville would close the gap on the Sharks lead was seven points, as the winners never lost their poise against the frantic pressure defense applied by the Hurricanes.  

Ponte Vedra picked the perfect night to have their best shooting performance from beyond the arc, as they made a season-high 12 three-pointers, four each from Bunkosky and Sam Ritchie.

It was a disappointing end to the season for the large contingent of followers from Gainesville, that included potential first round pick in the upcoming NFL draft and Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson.

A pair of future Division 1 players Theo Stephens and 6-foot-8-inch Josh Hayes ended their careers with 25 and 15 points respectively. 

However, when Hayes fouled out late in the contest, it proved to be the final blow for Gainesville.

Sam Ritchie led the balanced Sharks scoring attack with 21 points, while Bunkosky added 17 points, six assists and three steals and Israel Nuhu neutralized his counterpart Hayes in the middle with 14 points and 10 rebounds.  

The Sharks will play in the state semifinals where their next opponent will be Wekiva (24-6), 67-64 winners in their regional final against Lakeland.

If the Sharks prevail and win against Wekiva, they would face the winner of the other semifinal pitting top-ranked Dwyer (27-1) vs. Wharton (24-6).  

The Sharks will tip off against Wekiva in Lakeland at 8 p.m. March 2.

Ponte Vedra Sharks, boys basketball, elite eight