Blue Devils bid for district top spot falls to threes

By Randy Lefko
Posted 1/30/19

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Three three pointers in the last three minutes doomed the Clay High boys basketball team in their attempt to wrestle a district top seed away from Palatka on Tues., Jan. 22 as …

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Blue Devils bid for district top spot falls to threes

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Three three pointers in the last three minutes doomed the Clay High boys basketball team in their attempt to wrestle a district top seed away from Palatka on Tues., Jan. 22 as the Blue Devils lost 55-47 to the sixth-ranked in Class 6A-Panthers (16-2) in the Clay High gym.

“I just talked to them and they are in great spirits despite the score,” said Clay coach Jared Moses. “We had an off night on Friday (loss to Ridgeview) and to come back from a poor shooting performance there and have Palatka on the ropes, their heads are still high and we missed too many at the end.”

With a 39-36 lead going into the fourth quarter, the Blue Devils, again, looked like giant-killers much same as when Fleming Island, sixth-ranked in 8A (13-1) visited the Clay gym on January 11. Fleming Island got a dunk from senior guard Gianfranco Grafals that ignited a three steals to three layups scoring run by the Golden Eagles that led to a 66-61 win for Fleming Island.

“I don’t think that guy had any shots all game,” said Moses. “He got hot and we were holding off the other guys. That’s why they have a good season going.”

With the Clay season (10-7, 6-2 in district 5-6A) teetering precariously with legitimacy off a 6-2 district 5-6A record, the near-miss against 8A-Fleming Island, ranked sixth in 8A (13-1) and recent district wins over Matanzas and Pedro Menendez, Moses called back-to-back losses; an upset 44-38 loss to district 4-6A’s Ridgeview and the Palatka loss, as a test of tenacity for his team with the district tournament looming.

“They will be the outright number one in the district tournament with our two losses to them,” said Moses, who had Clay within two at the half on December 13 before seeing a disastrous 24-8 third quarter en route to an 81-51 district loss. “I hope people keep sleeping on us. My guys know what they are capable of.”

Clay employed a similar attack up front as they did with a three-quarter lead over the top-ranked (13-1) Fleming Island Golden Eagles in their January 11 66-61 loss, but, just like Fleming Island, Palatka guard Luke Martin DeShawn Shaw came up with the momentum-stealing plays with his third of three straight three-point shots turning a 43-43 tie at 4:05 to go to a dagger-like 52-43 gap in a flash. Shaw had just one point prior to the final four minutes of play.

“It felt the same as when Fleming Island dunked,” said Moses. “They got the shot that woke them up and we were missing shots.”

In the first quarter, behind slashing play into the paint from guards Cedrick Brown, Brishaun Britt and Jaylin Copeland, Clay bolted to an 11-3 lead that forced the glassy-eyed Panthers to call a timeout to figure out what was going on. Brown hit his first jumper before Britt stole a pass and raced downcourt for a layup for a quick 4-0 lead with Brown driving across the baseline for another layup as the Blue Devils were able to penetrate the inside defense of Palatka.

Near the end of the first quarter, Britt and center Cooper Vaughan combined for reciprocal give-and-go layups to push the Clay lead to 13-3. A Copeland no-look feed to Vaughan after a Britt drive ended the first stanza at 17-7 as the Panthers seemed shocked by the full frontal assault by the Blue Devil scheme.

“We were going to go right at them and their strength which is running the court,” said Moses. “We don’t necessarily fear anybody and we were stopping them for 75 percent of the game by limiting their possessions.”

Clay stayed the course to a 22-10 lead off with guard Tre Griner snaring three rebounds off Panther shots and hitting a breakaway layup. Copeland also hit a layup.

With 3:10 to the half, Palatka locked down on defense and turned up the offense to outscore Clay 8-0 and end the half ahead 23-22 off a buzzer-beater dunk.

Griner opened the third period with two layups as Clay looked to avoid a third quarter lull before hitting Vaughan under the basket for a 32-27 lead that got to 35-27 on a Griner three-pointer at 3:41.

Clay stayed just out of reach of the Panther offense to lead 39-36 after three quarters.

In the fourth, Copeland got a nifty behind-the-back save of a ball heading out of bounds that Griner got a layup with Brown sinking two free throws to push Clay up 42-36 with six minutes to go.

From there, Clay seemed intent of giving the Palatka the ball with errant passes and miscues getting the score tied 43-43 with 4:05 to go.

“We tried to slow it down a bit, but Palatka because I thought we hit them with their own game; running up and down the court,” said Moses. “We just missed too many at the end.”

Clay got in deep with forward Richard Feliciano getting behind the Palatka defense for an open layup, but Feliciano double dribbled to set up Shaw’s first three at the other end of the court.

Two missed threes by Copeland and Griner were answered with Shaw’s second three at 2:18 as Clay lost a step in their game watching the game go in the opposite direction.

“We had the looks at the end, but the shots were not falling,” said Moses.

Palatka took a missed three from Vaughan and slowed their game down to set up Shaw’s third three as the death knell for the game.

Copeland was off on two more threes, but Brown sunk two free throws to the final buzzer.

Clay, a third time, got to a 21-20 lead at halftime in Wednesday’s match with Orange Park High only to lose 52-47. Clay led 39-37 off two Vaughan free throws, but Orange Park guard Kadin Elmore hit a three pointer to put the Raiders up 40-39. Clay fought back to 46-45 with 2:01 to go and 48-47 off a Cedrick Brown layup, but free throws dunked the Blue Devil effort.

For Orange Park coach Derek Kurnitsky, the tough win was much-needed for the Raiders.

“We have had a bunch of blowout wins lately and this one was a tough game,” said Kurnitsky. “We needed to dig down a bit to get the win.”

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