Raiders rock Knights, push Jackson to brink

Missed frees at :06.9 vs. Tigers

By Randy Lefko Sports Editor
Posted 1/12/22

OAKLEAF - Orange Park High ended a gauntlet week of playing; a first loss to Providence, a strong rebound win over Ed White, a rivalry win over Oakleaf and a thrilling, but unsuccessful comeback …

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Raiders rock Knights, push Jackson to brink

Missed frees at :06.9 vs. Tigers


OAKLEAF - Orange Park High ended a gauntlet week of playing; a first loss to Providence, a strong rebound win over Ed White, a rivalry win over Oakleaf and a thrilling, but unsuccessful comeback against Andrew Jackson to set up the Raiders as a battle-tested team primed for a deep playoff run.

“Who’s the dumb coach who set up this week?” said Raider head coach Derek Kurnitsky, after his 66-55 win over county rival Oakleaf on Friday. “We get Jackson tomorrow (Sat., Jan. 8), a top three Class 4A school then Oakleaf again and Fleming Island later in the schedule.”

Kurnitsky recovered from Friday night’s clash in the Oakleaf Dungeon with little sleep before having to turn on the jets Saturday afternoon against Jackson (14-2) who entered ranked third in Class 4A with a win over previously unbeaten Fleming Island over the Christmas holiday.

“Bigger and as fast, we knew what we were getting with this one,” said Kurnitsky, after seeing his bench; notably junior Sherrard Adams and senior William Mosbach, answer the call in the fourth quarter when fouls became an issue on both teams.”We had the bench step up and found some guys with guts out there. That will only make us better for the future.”

Against Oakleaf, the Raiders opened with senior forward Josiah Sabino slam dunking his first shot on goal to ignite the crowd off the tipoff.

Sabino amped up his game to hit the first eight points of the night en route to his 31 points for the night as the Raiders high-octane attack put the Knights quickly on their heels.

“After Providence, we had to get our thinking on the next game which was Ed White and move forward,” said Kurnitsky. “Learn from it and get better is our mentality. The loss stung, but it kind of woke us up.”

Oakleaf answered with defense, with Cameron Coachman rejecting a Sabino drive and Keshaun Riley ejecting a Jeremiah Gabriel shot attempt. Oakleaf guard David Compere hit a jumper to 8-7 as Oakleaf closed the score to 17-15 by the end of the first quarter.

“I think we opened with too much energy because of the rivalry, but I told them they would have to settle down,” said Kurnitsky. “We were wasting a lot of energy on the court instead of playing ball.”

In the second quarter, Dylan Lewis canned a three on his first shot to put the Knights up 18-17, but Orange Park responded with turnovers to buckets with Jeremiah Gabriel going baseline for a layup plus a free throw to put Orange Park up 26-19. Coachman canned a three to 26-22 as the Knights tried to stay the pace.

“Jeremy is our high-energy guy,” said Kurnitsky. “We flow with his game.”

As the halftime break creeped closer, both teams fumbled away opportunities in the defensive frenzy with Gabriel and Riley battling the boards with buckets off rebounds to put Orange Park up 30-24.

Riley followed a Compere drive with a bucket to 32-26 with 1:55 left in the half before Faucett hit a corner three pointer to 35-26.

Faucett ended the half with a jumper to 39-30.

Orange Park built the lead to 62-46 with 4:16 left in the game with the Knights unable to close the gap.

“Our full court press kept wearing them down; Chuck and Duck,” said Kurnitsky. “That’s been our M.O all season.”

Against Jackson on Saturday, the Raiders fended off their own fatigue from the Oakleaf game, but got a slow start against the Tigers.

Andrew Jackson featured 6’-9” center Stephon Payne and a 6’-7” forward James Morrow to battle the boards with Gabriel and clog Sabino’s drives to the basket and the plan was effective for most of the first three quarters.

At 13-8 just before the end of the third, Orange Park got a four point play from Deandre Dickerson with a three pointer swishing and Dickerson getting floored on the shot to put Orange Park in the hunt at 13-12 with 15 seconds with momentum into the second quarter.

Near the end of the second quarter, Sabino hit two free throws to 24-20 as Jackson was able to keep the Raiders an arms length away.

Out of the lockers, Jackson hit a three pointer and jumper to surge to a 27-20 before Gabriel dropped an alley oop breakaway pass on Sabino to get the Raiders to within one, 27-26.

Orange Park held steady to a 38-34 gap after three to set up a dramatic fourth quarter for both teams as team fouls and foul shots started to play into strategy.

“I wish we got a few calls on the floor, but that’s the breaks on the road,” said Kurnitsky. “We had a lot of turnovers and missed plays, but we competed at a high level. Even with Josiah fouling out late in the game, the young guys stayed in the game.”

Sabino opened the fourth with a jumper to 38-36 as Orange Park’s fourth quarter presence was hopefully going to slow the Tiger attack with the bucket the lone score for nearly two minutes.

“With our bench guys playing great, we got to switch guys out and keep the pressure on them,” said Kurnitsky.

Off a time out, Jackson got a jumper but Avorie Grayson, another junior forward for Kurnitsky, came off the bench to get a three point play on an offensive rebound to score the game 40-39 with 6:13 to go.

With Mosbach manning the paint, Kurnitsky tried to fill the lane with bodies to counter the height advantage of Jackson on the glass.

Faucett enticed a foul off a three point shot and canned two of three freebies to put the Raiders within one, 42-41, at 5:19.

With fresh legs in with Grayson, Adams and Mosbach, Kurnitsky felt the need to turn up the pressure and create some buckets as both teams were over the seven team fouls limit with eight apiece.

“That was our shot,” said Kurnitsky, using a zone attack defense. “Both teams were tired.”

At 43-42, Kurnitsky did another wholesale lineup change to keep fresh legs on the court with Kevin Monterola and Archieve Triggs called to duty as Nick Gallegos and Sabino both had four fouls.

At 3:42, Gallegos had free throws to sway the game with his first tying the game at 43-43, his second, giving the Raiders the lead 44-43 with 3:42 to go.

With the stuffed paint defense strategy and both teams hitting the 10 team foul double shot scenario, Kurnitsky and Jackson coach James Collins started a chess game of personnel to finish the game.

Two free throws put Jackson up 45-44 with Faucett nailing a three to 47-45 at 2:29.

Jackson asserted their own full court press to answer the Raider surge with 2:13 to go with Gabriel missing on a three and Sabino on the rebound getting called on his fifth foul under the boards at 2:02. Jackson guard Jaden Brill hit one of his two frees to score the game 47-46.

Kurnitsky employed a Harlem Globetrotter type shuffle to burn some clock with Gabriel getting two frees; 48-46, with a miss on shot two.

Brill tied the game, 48-48, with a drive, before Mosbach got hammered under the boards for two free throws; 49-48 to 50-48 with 1:05 left.

Collins kept sending Brill on slashes into the paint to get foul shots but it was a missed three and rebound put Jackson on the free throw line; 50-49, with 50 seconds.

Another jump ball rebound fracas went to Jackson with Gabriel winning his own jump ball fracas with Payne on the ensuing play giving the Raiders possession.

With Adams trapped at halfcourt, Kurnitsky attempted a save with a quick time out with the Raiders getting a halfcourt throwin with 37 seconds to go.

Jackson continued to stuff the Raiders’ in bound attempts until a steal and layup put the Tigers up 51-50 with 32 seconds to go.

Orange Park had Faucett, Dickerson, Gabriel and Adams on the floor for the final surge with Gabriel getting fouled for two free throws at 6.9 seconds to go; missing both, to make the game even more tense.

Jackson would end the game 54-50 with three final free throws as Gabriel fouled out a 1.3 seconds.


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