ORANGE PARK - During pregame festivities Orange Park head basketball coach Derek Kurnitsky told the capacity crowd that the Orange Park vs Oakleaf basketball game is “the best rivalry in the state …
ORANGE PARK - During pregame festivities Orange Park head basketball coach Derek Kurnitsky told the capacity crowd that the Orange Park vs Oakleaf basketball game is “the best rivalry in the state of Florida.”
With the Raiderdome filled to the rafters and an electric atmosphere it would be difficult to argue his statement. A defensive showcase by both teams resulted in a hard fought and extremely physical 43-38 road win by the Oakleaf High School Knights in a non-district battle that comes a week after Orange Park upset the Knights on their homecourt.
“I thought we got away from some defensive principals in the first game with them (Orange Park),” said Oakleaf High coach Jason Price. “Our kids did a tremendous job of film study from the first game and we got back to playing solid on the ball defense. I was really pleased at how we competed on the defensive end tonight.”
Both teams started the game with high energy and physical play with the defenses (Particularly Oakleaf) leading the way. The Knights were able to hold Orange Park to just four points in the first period in route to a 10-4 lead after the first eight minutes.
The Raiders looked to their post game early in the second period but the ball would just not fall the entire first half. The Oakleaf defense consistently forced difficult and contested jump shots inside the three point line. The only open shots Orange Park could attempt in the first half were three point shots around the NBA distance of 23 feet. Orange Park’s Davonte Crutch was the only Raider to make a shot from the field in the first half. He totaled four of the seven points for the Raiders as Oakleaf took what seemed to be a commanding 20-7 halftime lead.
However, right on cue the Raiders would make some adjustments at halftime. They would score four points in the first minute of the third period to cut the lead to 20-11 and finally get the rabid Orange Park fan base the shot of energy they needed. The Raiders were clearly making a conscious effort to take shots in the paint off a drive or pass into the post instead of settling for contested jump shots and deep three point attempts.
Oakleaf would respond with an 8-2 run of their own using their clear size advantage in the post area. They increased their lead to 15 points midway though the third period at 28-13 (More like a football score than a basketball score). The Raiders finally got going offensively ending the period on an 8-0 run using a full court press and driving looking for layups and free throw opportunities while also getting the Raiderdome crowd back into the game.
The fourth quarter began with a three pointer from Orange Park senior Ty McBride to cut the lead to 28-24 to bring the crowd to their feet. The Raiders would cut the lead to one point at 28-27 and the roof was ready to be blown off the Raider dome until Oakleaf’s Deonte Sherwood would silence the crowd with a contested 17 foot jump shot with 5:35 left. Orange Park’s John Abate would get a lay up to cut the lead back to one with 5 minutes left. On the next possession McBride would strip the ball from sophomore forward Jalen Rivers and streak down the floor and get fouled. He would hit one of two free throws to tie the game at 30. The Raiders would miss a wide open lay up on the missed free throw that led to a three point play for Oakleaf’s Chantz Williams on their next possesion after a big offensive rebound.
Orange Park would take their first and only lead of the game with 1:15 remaining on a 15 foot jump shot by Crutch at 36-34. The lead would be short lived as Sherwood would score with a three point play after he was fouled on his lay up to give Oakleaf a 37-36 lead with 1:02 left. Then Crutch would attempt a difficult between the legs dribble while double teamed and committed a critical turnover that led to an open Oakleaf lay up to push the lead to 39-36 with 36 seconds left. McBride would draw a foul and hit two free throws with 22 seconds left to close the lead to 39-38. Oakleaf would then work the ball around to burn clock and would make their next four free throws to escape with a hard fought 43-38 rivalry win to split the season series.
“We made some plays late and hit some critical free throws which has been our Achilles Heel alot this season,” said Price. “I told our guys that we have been in this position before and I was pleased with our composure late in the game.”
The Knights look for a top three seed in their district with a monster matchup with Bartram Trial while Orange Park looks to continue their undefeated district season with a matchup against the Clay high Blue Devils.