FLEMING ISLAND – The last matchup between the Clay High Blue Devils and the Fleming Island High Golden Eagles at the Devils Den on January 11 was a Clay dominated game right up until the last minutes of play when Fleming Island took home a heart stopping five-point 66-61 victory, stealing one from the Devils. In the rematch on Friday at Fleming Island and on Warren Miller night at the Eagle’s Nest, it was nothing near the last outing.
From the tipoff, Fleming Island dominated by turning the screws very tight on defense, choking the Devils out en route to a 69-42 score.
“Defense was the key,” said Chandler, who has Fleming Island at 15-1 overall and sitting atop district 4-8A at 8-0. “We felt like their point guard is the catalyst to their offense and we tried to take him away from looking at the ball early, so we were able to make them uncomfortable early. He had an early three fouls that helped a lot so we were able to keep squeezing; keep pressing.”
After a nine-point Golden Eagle buildup, the Blue Devils finally scored their first points.
The Golden Eagles never relented, even in the fourth quarter when the players deep in the bench auditioned for starting future rolls, and continued to slam the Blue Devils.
“I thought a couple of those bench guys, deep in the bench, came out and scored a quick couple baskets; were aggressive; so we’ll have an eye on those guys for who can come and help us,”
said Chandler. “We have a deep team and we’re excited about who we are right now.”
The evening began with the Golden Eagles all donning Warren Miller’s No. 15 jersey to honor the 2017 Fleming Island grad who was tragically lost in August in a single car incident.
If the Friday night rivalry wasn’t enough to heat things up, the honoring of Miller in front of his parents and the hundreds who showed up was a tipping point that brought the room to a boil.
Fleming Island guard Gianfranco Grafals got the crowd worked into a frenzy early in the first quarter as he stole a throw in, had nothing but clear court ahead, and made one of his trademark slam dunk hoop hangers that erupted the crowd and took the game to an even higher level.
On the night, Fleming Island was in deep double digits for steals as Clay tried to get the ball thrown in after each Fleming Island basket, and Fleming Island covered every player like a coat of paint.
With Orange Park traveling to Clay Wednesday evening, it could be another shot to test the Blue Devils. Fleming Island will take on Raines (Tues., Feb. 5) at home, then close out on the road traveling to Orange Park (Fri., Feb. 8).
“I think we’re almost there. I think we’re almost exactly where we want to be,” said Chandler.
Clay (11-9) finishes with Orange Park on Tues., Feb. 6.