Collision course: FIHS, OPHS on track for showdown

By Ray DiMonda Correspondent
Posted 12/22/21

ORANGE PARK - On a night that honored Senior Shooting Guard Josiah Sabino for attaining 1,000 Orange Park High school points, the Raiders took that Sabino energy to shut down the visiting Bishop …

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Collision course: FIHS, OPHS on track for showdown


Sabino sails Raiders to 11-0

ORANGE PARK - On a night that honored Senior Shooting Guard Josiah Sabino for attaining 1,000 Orange Park High school points, the Raiders took that Sabino energy to shut down the visiting Bishop Kenny Crusaders, holding them scoreless from the field in the second quarter as the Raiders remained a perfect 9-0 with a dominating 67-47 home win.
“A number one team stands out. Everybody in the gym knows what a number one team looks like” said Raiders Head Coach Derek Kurnitsky. “For the first time in the history of this school, and I know it doesn’t mean anything except for the talking heads, but when you are going to be ranked number one in 5A, this is how you are supposed to play. This is it; this is what it looks like.”
The Raiders added to the unbeaten streak with a dominant road trip on Sat., Dec. 18 to Kurnitsky’s former haunts; Port St. Joe High, where Orange Park dominated to an 80-37 win in front of Kurnitsky’s hometown fans. Guard Jeremiah Gabriel led the scoring with 23 points with Sabino adding 20 and Thomas Faucett chipping in 14.
Orange Park stayed in their team van, despite a blown tire along the way to Franklin County High, eighth ranked in Class 1A, for a Monday afternoon clash.
Before the Bishop Kenny game, Sabino was recognized as only the fifth Orange Park player since 1959, to reach 1,000 points in their four-year career at the school.
“Coming into my freshman year at Orange Park, I never thought something like this would happen” said Sabino, as he reflected on the pre-game fanfare. “Just all the hard work, the seven AM mornings in the gym, working on getting better, it’s really been a process for four years. I am so appreciative to everyone who came out tonight to share this honor with me.”
The ordeal seemed to only add fuel to the Raiders as they felt out the Crusaders for the first quarter, finding where they needed to adjust. The Crusaders, a team that lost most of their defeats by five points or less, were no pushover. The well-disciplined team liked the outside shots and were not stopped early as the speed of the dominant inside defense the Raiders brought to the court forced the Crusaders to stay outside and use three-pointers to edge the Raiders 16-14 at the end of the first quarter.
As Coach Kurnitsky is famous for, he adjusted his game plan to the opponent, and the Raiders went on attack.
“If you are going to win, you have to play defense,” said Kurnitsky. “You can tell the teamwork; the chemistry is really good. We’ve been building for this.”
In the second quarter, the Raiders so dominated the Crusaders, that Bishop Kenny had to settle for nothing more than two free throw points in the entire second quarter, as the team headed to the locker room for the half, down 23-16.
Sabino, the consummate team player, did nothing but feed his teammates the entire quarter, not scoring a single point as he helped his team with assists as they racked up 15 points. “Balance! We scored 15 second quarter points, and he (Sabino) didn’t score one, which is good,” said Kurnitsky. “It means we have other guys. He doesn’t mind passing the ball. He’s cool, real cool. He just wants to win.”
In the third quarter, the Raider defense remained relentless as the Crusaders were only allowed three field goals, no three-pointers, and depended on free throws to amass most of their points for the quarter. On offense, Sabino put on a clinic as he dominated the scoring in the third. As a team, the Raiders blasted 25 third quarter points, and all but 11 of those were Josiah Sabino doing it is style as the Raider defense was everywhere, taking away the ball. Sabino had several break-aways, dunking the ball over and over, or finding an up-court player open for the assist.

After the offensive onslaught, Coach K went to the bench and used his depth of the team to put the final 13 on the board as the Crusaders never quit, putting up 16 of their own as the Raiders booked win nine, remaining perfect to this point. The hardest part of being on top, is staying there. The Raider prescription to balance on the point of that needle seems simple.
“It doesn’t matter who we play,” said Sabino. “We treat them all like we’re playing the state champion tomorrow, the next day, we give our best shot, because that’s what we have to expect. We expect the best shot from every team. We bond, play together, keep grinding, get more practices under our belt, and make it our best year. We can’t give anyone an opportunity. We are always pedal to the metal. If we are up by 20, we want to be up by 40.”

Zapp’s sharp shooting boosts ‘Claustrophobia’

FLEMING ISLAND - With a bullet train speed offense, and an absolutely suffocating defense, the Fleming Island Golden Eagles repeated the carnage they inflicted only four nights prior on the same Riverside High Generals at the 9:12 Fortegra Invitational.
“In the beginning, we put them on the free throw line a lot with lots of fouls. I thought that kept them in the game early on” said Fleming Island Head Coach Traavis Chandler. “In the second half, we made a little run and were able to open it up a little and get a little comfort. We stuck with the plan and kept up with that pressure defense.”
With double digit three-pointers, Colton Zapp (5-3Ptrs, 21 Pts), Gavin Goldblatt (2-3ptrs) and several rejected Generals shots, the Golden Eagles remained a perfect 9-0 after a 73-59 win in the Eagles Nest.
Fleming Island, now 11-0, continued the modus operanda with wins over Impact Christian of Jacksonville (56-37) and Auburndale (64-60) as the Fleming Island Holiday Tournament ramps up on Tues., Dec. 21 with games Tues., Dec. 21-Thurs., Dec. 23.
Auburndale, a 5A powerhouse at 6-2, turned a 16-16 first quarter into a 38-30 halftime lead, but the eight-cylinder engine of the Fleming Island machine kicked into gear with a 17-10, 16-12 final two stanzas. Zapp led scoring against Auburndale with 18 (3-3ptrs) with Antoine Sandy adding 17.
Against Impact, Fleming Island flew to a 35-9 first half lead with Zapp at 12 points and Gavin Rayes popping three three-pointers. Ahman Greenidge had 10 rebounds and an astounding five assists from his post position.
“We work hard for four quarters to break the other team’s will,” said Chandler. “By the fourth quarter, we are still running on full tilt and that’s our advantage. These boys know that is our strength.”
Against Riverside at Fleming Island, on defense, Antoine Sandy led his team with three blocks, followed by Ahman Greenidge and Demarion Valmyr each with a rejection of their own to keep the Generals from getting any momentum rolling. The Golden Eagle defensive discipline this early in the season is impressive. With arms up, standing tall inside, the Generals had no answers to try and score on the Fleming Island bunker of a defense.
On the takeaways, Chandler praised his team’s work.
“We work on that so much,” said Chandler. “Ahman was a beast on the boards tonight. Whenever he starts early like that, I know we’re going to be tough.”
From tipoff, Greenidge was huge inside, coming down with several Generals errant shots, and getting the ball up court. That effort was intoxicating to his teammates who fed off the energy as the Golden Eagles ratcheted up the heat as the game went on.
The speed of the offense is keeping the other teams on their heels as Fleming Island continues to press hard on their drives, quick pass and find the open shot which drained for 55 percent on tonight’s effort. Whenever Greenidge came down with the ball, the target tonight was Zapp who finished with the team high 21 points, five of those three-pointers. Zapp was followed by Greenidge with 11 points and Antoine Sandy with 10.
Flipping the court after a score, the team sprints to man-up as the Generals would attempt to organize any sort of plays. As the defense freezes the ball at the half court line, there is no freebie to half court. When any chance for a double and sometimes triple team showed, the Golden Eagles took full advantage, racking up 15 steals with almost every one resulting in points or a free throw. Late in the third quarter, you could compare the two teams during a time out, with the Generals tongues hanging out, while the Golden Eagles, rotating the entire bench, had players seemingly just getting warmed up.


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