Ponte Vedra’s boys basketball team capped a winning week last Friday, Jan. 26, by defeating an undefeated Palatka squad 54-45 in front of a large crowd of happy Shark rooters. The visiting Panthers took to the court after moving to the very top of the rankings among prep teams in the First Coast area, boasting a perfect 19-0 record.
Led by 6-foot-8-inch senior center Jackson Johnson, who recorded Ponte Vedra’s first triple-double in school history, the Sharks boosted their season record over the .500 mark with the stunning victory.
Johnson shattered his own school record with 16 blocked shots, to go along with 11 rebounds and 10 points, as the Sharks improved their district record to 5-2 heading into tonight’s (Thursday, Feb. 1) important contest with Clay High School.
After the first quarter ended with the score deadlocked at 12-12, Palatka took the lead, 18-15, with three minutes left in the second period. The Sharks closed out the half on a 7-2 run to take a 25-20 lead into the locker room, a lead they would never relinquish.
The Sharks extended their lead to 32-21 before the Panthers could unleash a last ditch run. After narrowing the gap to 42-40 with three minutes remaining, the battle-hardened locals kept their poise and did not collapse against the pressing Panthers defense.
Senior Will Mons had a pair of clutch assists, first dishing off to Johnson while driving to the basket for an easy 10-foot tally. Mons then hit a cutting Reese Russi for a layup to extend the PVHS lead to 48-42.
After the Sharks forced a Panther turnover, Mons lofted an overhead, two-hand pass three-quarters of the length of the court to a streaking Russi, a pass that would have made Wes Unseld proud. Russi’s layup pushed the lead to 50-42, and then it was fitting that Mons, who has battled knee injuries throughout his high school career, calmly netted four straight free throws to secure the victory.
Although Johnson’s triple double was clearly an eye-catcher, the Sharks' sultan of shot blocking had plenty of help from his mates. Russi led the Sharks in scoring with 15 points, but it was his work not seen in the stat column that was instrumental in the victory. Time and again, it was the junior Russi who would somehow come up with loose balls when the action became hectic during the game’s final stages.
After being shut out in the scoring column in the first half, junior Logan Conway caught fire in the second half by netting all 10 of his points. Junior Ben Houser chipped in with eight tallies, and Mons added seven.
The Sharks hope to continue their fine play and a chance for some redemption when they host Clay High School tonight at the Shark tank. Ponte Vedra played perhaps its worse game of the season when the team lost to the Blue Devils 67-55 earlier in the season. The second seed in the upcoming district playoff will go to the winner of tonight’s game. The matchup will likely be a preview of these two teams facing each other in the first game of the playoffs Feb. 14 at Matanzas High School.
Earlier Sharks action
Before defeating Palatka, the Sharks began their busy week by dropping a 61-53 contest to a sizzling hot Bartram Trail team. The Bears were coming off a stunning upset victory over the previous top ranked team in the Creekside Knights. The Sharks, who led by three points at the halftime break, fell to deadly shooting from the Bears, who netted eight three pointers in the contest, while the Sharks would only net a trio of shots from behind the arc.
The Sharks had very little time to sulk about their loss to Bartram Trail as they would travel to St. Augustine the next night to face Pedro Melendez in a district contest. The host Falcons were no match for the Sharks as coach Bud Beech was able to rest many of his starters in the 50-39 victory. So balanced was the Ponte Vedra scoring that 12 Shark players dented the scoring column, with Johnson’s 8 points, in but one quarter of play, leading the way.