Special to the Recorder
Faced with the prospect of playing three of their toughest opponents this past week, Ponte Vedra fans had to be pleased that the Sharks emerged victorious in two of those battles.
Sandwiched between a pair of victories over Bolles and Palatka was a tightly contested loss to one of the area’s top ranked team, the Creekside Knights. The Sharks survived the week despite losing a pair of their best players.
Senior guard Mike Nicandri suffered a knee injury during Tuesday’s victory over Bolles and will be sidelined for the remainder of the season. It was a double whammy at the guard position for the Sharks, as starting guard Will Mons likewise had a season-ending knee injury early into this campaign.
Leading scorer JD Pirris is scheduled to return to the lineup after this week’s trio of games and will be a most welcome addition for the injury-riddled Sharks.
Overcoming these drawbacks, the Sharks were able to hold off Palatka on Friday night, improving their overall record to an impressive 11-5 and a district leading 4-1.
The Sharks enjoyed a seemingly comfortable 11-point lead in Friday’s always interesting road trip to Palatka. Unlike last year, when Palatka’s tenacious full court pressure defense turned into a Panther home win, such was not the case this year.
The Sharks led 46-35 heading into the final quarter before Palatka went on a furious rally. With some questionable home cooking from the men in stripes, Palatka outscored the Sharks by 10 points, but fell one point short of overtaking the Sharks.
In their only home game of a quirky schedule, that will find Ponte Vedra playing but one home game as opposed to 13 on the road, the Sharks surprised the defending state champions from Bolles with a convincing 77-47 victory in front of a large crowd at the Shark Tank.
The Sharks, after leading 27-20 at halftime, played perhaps their best half of basketball of the season by exploding for 50 second-half points to run way from Bolles. Pirris led a balanced attack for the Sharks, with a game-high 21 points while pulling down 11 rebounds and dishing out five assists.
Eston Hensley continued his great play with 15 points while 6’8” junior center Jack Johnson chipped in with eight. Johnson also was a domineering factor on defense by blocking four shots and altering a number of other errant Bolles attempts.
The Sharks took the short jaunt to nearby Creekside last Thursday as huge underdogs to a Knight team boasting of a lofty state ranking. In the first game of the season, the Sharks were man handled by Creekside 69-41, and Knight fans expected more of the same in the rematch.
However, the Sharks, playing without Mons, Nicandri, and Pirris, gave the Knights a real scare before running out of gas in the game’s final moments. The Sharks trailed by only two points late into the third period before the Knights were finally able to pull away from the shorthanded, but gritty, Sharks.
Several of the Sharks stepped up nicely for Coach Bud Beech’s crew, led by Jack Shannon with a team-high 17 points. Johnson continued his improved play with 11 while sophomore guard Reese Russi, forced to log a lot of minutes with the Sharks missing three of their guards, added 10 points to complement his five rebounds and four steals.
Hensley, who drew a crowd of Knights throughout the contest, was the fourth Shark to reach double figures with 10 points, all coming in the first half.
The most important game during this week’s busy stretch of games was PV’s tight victory over Palatka. Playing in a Panther gym, where the Sharks had but one win (2014) in school history, the 53-52 conquest of Palatka saw several Sharks make major contributions.
Shannon led all Shark scorers for the second straight game with a team-high 16 points and a team-high six assists. Sophomore Russi was close behind with a career-high 14 points while Johnson was a dominant force on the defensive end of the court. The still improving Johnson scored 10 points but that didn’t begin to account for his most important role.
With his long wingspan, Johnson blocked eight Palatka shots to equal his own school record that he set a year earlier, also against the Panthers.
After Tuesday’s important district game with Menendez, the opposition doesn’t get any easier for “The Beech Boys.” The Sharks will play Thursday against an always-competitive Bishop Kenny team that were state runner ups last season. Less than 24 hours later, PVHS will again hit the road to play a district game against a much-improved and well-coached Matanzas five.