After completing their obligatory district schedule with games earlier this week against Clay Co. and Menendez, the Sharks boys basketball team will now dive into the toughest part of their schedule with a pair of games against a pair of statewide powers.
Tomorrow night (Fri., Jan. 15) the Sharks will welcome to the Shark Tank Providence High School, the defending Division 3 State Champions, before heading right back into the firestorm the following Tuesday (Jan. 19) when they host the top rated team in the First Coast area, undefeated as of this writing, Bishop Kenny.
Hopefully the Sharks swept their earlier games this week (Tuesday and Thursday) against Clay and Menendez that would have clinched the top seed entering district playoff competition beginning the first week of February.
The Sharks had but one lone game on their schedule last week, but it turned into a welcome victory in a district battle against rival Palatka. Making amends for an earlier loss to the Panthers, there was to be no fourth quarter comeback in the return engagement against Palatka in the Jan. 8 game in Ponte Vedra.
Ponte Vedra players felt they let the earlier game at Palatka get away when they allowed the Panthers to make up a 16-point fourth quarter deficit in their lone district defeat.
And, for just a brief moment, there were signs of a repeat comeback by the Panthers when they cut a halftime deficit of 10 down to three entering the fourth quarter. However, the Sharks kept their composure, protected the basketball, and made 12 free throws down the stretch in defeating Palatka 76-65 to earn a split of the season series.
Palatka got off to an early 11-6 lead in the first quarter, with the Sharks getting abused on the boards. However, that all changed when 6’7” sophomore Jack Johnson entered the fray. Johnson used his height and long arms to swat away a number of Panther close range shots as the Sharks bounced back to take a 21-18 lead after the first stop, a lead they would never relinquish.
Although Johnson finished with a modest total of six points, the gangling sophomore blocked eight shots, breaking the school record held by his summer coach, UNF star performer Beau Beech, who was among the large crowd in attendance at the contest.
Former Ponte Vedra basketball star Jackson Johnson, now a member of Tulane Universities nationally ranked baseball team, was also in attendance and had to be pleased as his younger brother Matthew Johnson tossed in 20 points in the winning cause, sharing high point honors with JD Pirris.
Lance Kren came off the bench to tally 15 points while coach Beech also received some stellar play from Easton Hensley. Hensley chipped in with seven points, but contributed to the victory in so many other ways for the Sharks. The 6’3” junior had four steals on the evening to go along with 5 rebounds and a pair of assists.
Tomorrow night’s meeting with Providence will be the first ever clash between the two area schools. Legendary Providence coach Jim Martin has posted an eye-popping record of 218 victories over the past eight years while suffering but 22 defeats; none of those defeats have been at the hands of a Jacksonville area public school.
Martin has won three state titles over that span, including last year’s team that won 34 of their 35 games. Providence has always had more than their fair share of players who transferred into the Providence program and the Sharks are no strangers to this year’s leading scorer for the Stallions, former Menendez student Zach Bryant.
As a sophomore member of the Menendez team that ended Ponte Vedra’s season a year ago, Bryant poured in 31 of the Falcons’ game winning 40 points en route to being named the St. Johns County Player of the year. Coach Bud Beech will assign his lone senior on this year’s Shark squad, Matt Johnson, the dubious mission of slowing down Bryant, this year’s leading scorer for Providence.
To add further woe’s to the monumental task ahead for the Sharks, Ponte Vedra will then turn around next Tuesday and welcome undefeated Bishop Kenny, and the area’s leading scorer, Christian Carlyle to the Shark Tank. The Florida Gulf Coast commitment is averaging nearly 30 points per game on the season, and will have a lot of help from yet another Division I player putting in 20 points each outing, Naval Academy bound Chris Joyce.
Big crowds are expected for both contests and fans are encouraged to arrive early and get a glimpse of the young Ponte Vedra Junior Varsity team, boasting an impressive 12-2 record. Coach Dustin Latta’s JV team, comprised almost entirely of ninth graders will tip off each night’s action at 6 p.m.