ORANGE PARK – Orange Park High senior guard Ty McBride followed two layups from teammates John Abate and D’Marre Craddock that tied the Raiders’ region 1-6A quarterfinal game at 60-60 with less …
ORANGE PARK – Orange Park High senior guard Ty McBride followed two layups from teammates John Abate and D’Marre Craddock that tied the Raiders’ region 1-6A quarterfinal game at 60-60 with less than two seconds on the clock in what was to be a spinetingling comeback against Ribault High School.
Did not happen.
Ribault High guad Devon Matthews took the ensuing inbounds pass going right to left in front of the Raiders’ basket then lofted a long pass-throw for a final attempt of avoiding overtime as the packed Raiderdome arched to watch the trajectory as the buzzer sounded.
Game over, swish, 63-60.
“I’ve never had a game end like that before,” said a visibly emotional Orange Park High coach Derek Kurnitsky after taking nearly 20 minutes in the team room to console his shocked troops. “We always fight our guts out on the court. It is what it is. I still think Raider basketball is in a good place.”
For Orange Park, a second district 4-6A title goes into the history books with a second early exit in the state playoffs, but Kurnitsky, though emotional in this outcome, was optimistic.
“The seniors here have left a mark,” said Kurnitsky. “Raider basketball is in good shape. It hurts more because I won’t see these seniors in the locker here anymore.”
Led by junior John Abate’s 21 points, the Raiders were unable to counter the 6’-6” presence of Ribault center Julian Clark, who dominated the paint through the first half as Ribault opened a 14-7 first quarter lead that grew to 24-17 at the half.
“We missed a lot of layups and they were very physical underneath,” said Kurnitsky. “In playoff basketball, you have to expect more physical play and referees
allowed the game to continue. It’s part of the playoffs.”
In the first half, Orange Park’s offensive attack that featured slashing strikes toward the basket from outside the three point lines used to open up three point shots by Kadin Elmore or Abate, it was a series of passes from center Davontai Crutch to freshman forward Craddock that put in some tough layups.
Elmore, who hit key three pointers against Westside in the district final, hit his first one in the third with a one-step fake before launching that seemed to fuel a Raider surge.
With Craddock taking two layups against Matthews for success, Orange Park slowly closed the scoring gap to 32-29 with four minutes left in the third and Raider Nation sensing another high-paced fourth quarter surge.
“I saw something in their eyes that said we were going to be alright,” said Kurnitsky. “These guys are fighters.”
Orange Park continued to press and Ribault seemed to be wilting by the pressure as went baseline to baseline with a layup at the buzzer scoring the game at 45-37.
In the fourth, Abate and McBride turned up the volume with relentless inside attacks in the paint causing either layups or free throws as Crutch and Abate chipped away at the Trojan lead.
A nifty steal at halfcourt by Elmore that reached Abate and finally found Craddock for a jumper got the score to 47-43 with six minutes to go.
Ribault stayed steady, but quickly forced fouls against the Raiders to force free throws on their side as the score loomed at 54-51 with a minute left and both teams in a frenzy trying to orchestrated time outs and intentional fouls.
At 57-51, with 52 seconds, McBride blasted through the lane but did not get a roll on a layup, but Elmore again responded with a huge three pointer in front of the Raider bench that put the score at 58-54 with 45 seconds left.
A little Kharma left the Ribault basket with two missed free throws landing Abate on a twisting drive to the basket and Crutch finding Craddock for a layup put the score at 60-58 with 35 seconds to go with Ribault again missing one of two free throws in the raucous Raiderdome noise.
McBride took the ensuing throw-in and went straight up the middle of the Ribault defense against two 6’-4” buildings and wiggled in a twisting layup to tie the game at 60-60 with :09 on the clock.
“We did just about everything right,” said Kurnitsky. “We got the shot, set up for pressure inside halfcourt and made them throw a running in bounds pass. Unfortunately, they got lucky on the throw. We didn’t give him a clean look. It’s what we sign up for, endings like this happen.”