Local lacrosse gurus predicted a pair of blowout games for the Ponte Vedra Sharks in the district playoffs and the experts were spot on. The Sharks easily dispatched Bartram Trail 24-7 April 5, then claimed the District 6 title with a 21-3 win over their archrival, the Nease Panthers, April 7 at the Panthers’ Field.
As district champion, the Sharks qualify for the first round “play-in” playoff game, which according the FHSSA.org website will be played against Fletcher Thursday, April 13 at 7 p.m. at the Shark Tank. The visiting Senators have a 9-6-1 record, while Ponte Vedra owns 18 wins against a single loss.
Bartram Trail had little chance against the Sharks, falling behind 5-0 in the first six minutes. Senior Clay Welch put the Sharks up 1-0 with a goal 30 seconds after the opening faceoff. Jack Burke, Andrew O’Dare and Burke, again, then scored consecutive goals all within 60 seconds of each other.
Welch got right back in the act to make the score 5-0 before Tim Adams’ goal avoided a first quarter shutout of the Bears. Welch then added his third goal to finish the first quarter with Ponte Vedra up 6-1.
The second quarter belonged to the Sharks’ Reid Smith and O’Dare. Smith scored three times in the first five minutes while O’Dare added two more – both coming after he won a face off, as he did on his first quarter goal.
Before the half ended, Smith found the range for two more goals and single scores by Welch, Walker Azzaro, Dylan Hess, Matt Keeler and Andrew Bray sent the Sharks into the break leading 19-2.
Ponte Vedra coach Tom West substituted freely to start the second half, and the Bears took advantage of the situation to score three consecutive goals. From there on, the teams traded goals. Devin Hoffman scored a pair while fourth quarter goals by Jason Prince, Keeler and Welch pushed the Sharks to the 24-7 final.
Nease couldn’t keep pace with the Ponte Vedra’s relentless offense either, although they tried to match the Sharks physically – the result, a very rough game marked by numerous penalties levied against each team.
Nease fell behind 7-0 in the first 12 minutes. Smith tallied three times in the quarter for Ponte Vedra, while Burke, Welch, CD James and O’Dare also scored.
Hunter Paulsen put the Panthers on the board with a goal 30 seconds into the second quarter, but Keeler and Smith answered for the Sharks. Smith’s goal came on an incredible shot made as he fell to his knees, the result of a Nease body check.
When Sean Howard scored the Panthers’ second goal, Hess and Welch matched that. Howard scored again for Nease but as before, Ponte Vedra responded with goals by Burke and Keeler.
The half ended with the Sharks up 13-3. From that point on Ponte Vedra did all the remaining scoring. Azzaro and James added two goals, Devin Naidoo, Welch, Hess and Burke one each to give the Sharks a 21-3 win and the District 6 trophy.
Predicting the playoffs
Trying to handicap the upcoming lacrosse playoffs is like negotiating college basketball’s March Madness brackets successfully; nevertheless, here’s this writer’s attempt.
Look for the Sharks to breeze through their three play-in games with decisive wins against Fletcher, and either St. Mary’s or St. Augustine in the second round, then either Bolles, Maclay, Pensacola Catholic or Buchholz in the third round. I don’t think it makes much difference which of those teams the Sharks wind up playing, since they have already beaten most of them.
Then as Region 1 winner, the Sharks would face the Region 2 winner. My guess is that Newsome would emerge as the Region 2 winner from a group comprised of Lake Highland Prep, Hagerty, West Orange, Bishop Moore, Lakeland, Berkeley Prep and Steinbrenner.
Should the Sharks beat the Region 2 winner, they will be in a position to play the winner of the Region 3 and 4 match-up for the state championship. My pick for the Region 3 winner is Barron Collier and the Region 4 winner is likely to be St. Thomas Aquinas. I look then for St. Thomas Aquinas to beat Barron Collier and, as a result, face Ponte Vedra for the state championship in Jupiter, Florida April 29 at 7:05 p.m.
If the Sharks do meet St. Thomas Aquinas in the final round, can they win?
Let’s look at their records. Like the 18-1 Sharks, the 17-1 Raiders have lost just once and that to a strong team from Long Island. At 18-1, Ponte Vedra’s lone defeat came at the hands of Jupiter by a score of 14-9, while St. Thomas edged Jupiter 11-10. The only other common opponent is Lake Highland Prep, and both the Sharks and the Raiders handled the Highlanders easily.
Absent any other consideration, Ponte Vedra’s loss to Jupiter could be a key factor in this reckoning. Could the Sharks use this loss to their advantage? After all, the championship game is being played at the Warriors’ field, the scene of their only loss. What better way to avenge that singular defeat?
So, back to the question at hand. Can the Sharks beat St. Thomas Aquinas (or whomever wins the Region 3 vs Region 4 match-up) and win their first lacrosse championship in the school’s history? Not only can they can win, they will win.
Remember, you heard it here first.