What makes this year’s Ponte Vedra boys basketball so dangerous is the depth of playmakers they have on the roster and the confidence they have in each other and with their own game.
“Victories are nice and we celebrate them, but I want these men to learn is that life is all about winning and losing battles, but it’s also about not being scared and not listening to critics. None of them play hesitant or scared and that’s awesome,” head coach Kevin Whirity said.
That depth has been on display throughout the postseason run the team is on that has them playing in the Class 6A final four against Winter Haven at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 3 in Lakeland. It is the first time in school history that boys basketball has reached the final four.
“This is something PV has never done, but I want to take it one step further and win a state title,” Junior Nate Bunkosky said.
At any moment, any player on the team can step up and deliver a performance of a lifetime, which is exactly what senior center Luke Pirris did during the Sharks’ 60-49 win over Fleming Island in the regional championship Feb. 25.
“We’ve been underdogs this entire season, but our goal has been to win a state championship all along and we’ve never expected anything else,” Pirris said. “We’re out to prove everyone wrong.”
The Golden Eagles presented a definite size advantage down low, but instead of shying away, Pirris attacked their big men and used his quickness and footwork skills to take over the game.
“I knew coming in that they were some big boys, but I’m not scared of anyone,” Pirris said. “They blocked my shot a few times, but I adapted and found my groove early.”
He played like a man on a mission throughout the contest and doubled his scoring and rebounding averages on the night as a result. He finished with a game-high 24 points and 10 rebounds.
“He felt that kid out on his first drive, because I think he got a piece of it and knocked it out of bounds,” Whirity said. “From there, Luke judged his speed, his angles and his height and went on to make his next four or five layups. He’s a sick athlete, and the reverse layup he made in the first half with his left hand was something I didn’t know he had.”
Fifteen of Pirris’ points came in the first half and played a major in the Sharks having a 31-30 halftime lead.
Senior J.T. Kelly buried scored nine of his 12 points in an explosive second half that saw the Sharks extend their lead for good.
“We were able to get past the first wave (of defense) and were then able to attack the second and third layers, and we were just knocking them (shots) down,” Whirity said.
Each playoff round has had different players step up with clutch performances and are prime examples of how difficult the Sharks are to defend and prepare for, because there is not just one player an opponent can shut down and feel confident about.
In the regional semifinals against Crestview, Bunkosky had 15 points and four steals, while Ross Candelino was six of eight from the field and had 18 points.
Senior Gus Jordheim shot 83% from the field en route to 11 points during the Sharks’ blowout victory over Booker T. Washington in the regional quarterfinals.
“I’ve never had this much fun playing basketball in my entire life,” Bunkosky said. “I’ve played with a lot of these guys my whole life and sharing this moment with them is an amazing feeling.”
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