With their 76-55 stomping of Gainesville Eastside last Thursday, the Sharks advanced to the Regional Semi Finals Tuesday when they hosted Alachua Santa Fe. The Sharks bested Alachua 59-54.
The win by the Sharks puts them in the Regional Finals and a berth in the Sweet 16 tomorrow night (Friday, February 19). A loss would have marked the end of what has been a surprisingly successful season that has seen Ponte Vedra’s boys basketball team win 18 games, their second highest win total in school history.
Not since the 2011-12 Ponte Vedra squad upset Bishop Kenny in the regional first round as a Shark squad advanced this far in the school’s brief history. This time however, the Sharks did not have to fight to the final buzzer to advance.
Playing their best half of the season, the Sharks put on a clinic in the first two periods by outscoring the visitors from Gainesville 49-18. The 49 points fell but one point shy of the 50 points tallied by the Beau Beech-Jackson Johnson led team in a victory over Bartram Trail in the 2011-12 season.
Jackson’s younger brother Matt, teamed up with JD Pirris as the Sharks deadly duo each scored 15 first half points, as the Rams from Eastside left the court at halftime stunned by the dynamic Shark attack.
Pirris and Johnson got some valuable help from their mates as the Shark’s ball movement was at its season’s best. Eastside led early in the contest 6-3, but the rest of the half belonged to the Sharks. Coach Bud Beech got a huge lift from his bench, when midway through the opening stanza, he inserted 6’7” sophomore Jack Johnson and 6’0” junior Chris Tomacewski into the lineup.
Weakened somewhat with a bout with the flu earlier in the week, Johnson quickly changed the tempo of the game into the Shark’s favor. Blocking, or altering, a number of Eastside shots, as well as controlling the defensive backboard, Jack Johnson’s outlet passes following a defensive rebound keyed a number of fast breaks that turned into easy Shark baskets.
Tomacewski, meanwhile, brought his usual energy to the floor with his defense and ability to slash past his opponent to score on driving layups. All seven players used in Coach Beech’s rotation scored in the first half, leaving the visitors in severe danger of playing with a running clock in the second half.
Three times early in the third quarter the Shark’s we’re within a basket from a mercy rule 35 point advantage, only to have Gainesville stave off their possible embarrassment with a gallant second half effort. The Sharks took a 32 point lead into the final period and were satisfied to just coast to the victory.
Pirris and Matt Johnson did an outstanding job of filling out the stat lines. Pirris would finish with 24 points to go with a half dozen assists and rebounds. Johnson, after tallying 15 first half points, was content to get his teammates involved in the second half action. The senior captain had 17 points and six assists while his lone turnover was on an offensive charge.
The recipient of some nice kick out passes from his fellow sharks, Jack Shannon does what he does best — shoot — and finished with 11 points, nine of those coming from his first of three consecutive makes on three-point shots.
Gainesville Eastside’s veteran coach Herman Williams lamented to a local court side reporter that his team’s youth contributed heavily to the defeat. Perhaps Williams wasn’t aware Ponte Vedra has a very young squad of their own, as Matt Johnson was the only senior who dented the scoring column for the equally young Sharks.
Jack Johnson demonstrated that he could very well be the missing crown jewel if the Sharks are to continue deeper into this year’s FHSAA playoffs. Johnson, in very limited minutes, led the Sharks with nine rebounds, five blocked shots and a slam dunk that contributed to two of his five points scored on the night.
If the Sharks were to have emerged victorious this past Tuesday, fans will have to await the outcome from the other game within their regional between Zephyrhills and Nature Coast to decide their opponent and venue. A win by Nature Coast would assure Ponte Vedra of playing host, a Zephyrhills win would have the Sharks take to the road.