ORANGE PARK – After a nail biter of a season opener on the road versus Camden County where they came up one basket shy 66-64, the Ridgeview High Panthers boys basketball team ran into a buzzsaw …
ORANGE PARK – After a nail biter of a season opener on the road versus Camden County where they came up one basket shy 66-64, the Ridgeview High Panthers boys basketball team ran into a buzzsaw with Fleming Island High’s fast-paced juggernaut racking up a 76-45 non-district win Thursday night at Ridgeview High.
“For opening night, I thought we were solid. One of our mottos this season is together” said Fleming Island Head Coach Traavis Chandler. “We have to be one cohesive unit and these guys are really taking that on as they showed us that tonight.”
Fleming Island proved to be party crashers on their season opener on the road as they swooped into the Ridgeview gym and used a smothering defense right out of the gate to shut down the Panthers very early. Ridgeview would close the gap to two points in the second period right before Fleming Island became burglars and stole the ball several times to make the Panthers pay for some sloppy play as they opened up a 13 point at the half on their way to a bruising 76-45 road victory over the Panthers.
From the tip off, Fleming Island made a statement after two passes to get the ball to Fleming Island senior guard Gianfranco Grafals, who saw an open lane, went air born, and slam dunked the first two points and added a rim hanger to flex a little muscle.
“I really think that one play set the tone,” said Grafals. “Any time you get a play like that, it gives the guys energy, they get excited and it pumped up the adrenalin before it died down just a little bit. It was great to get the bench in the game right away.” On the throw in, Chandler decided to throw a blanket over the Panthers to see what their reaction would be. The result was Ridgeview not able to get their first points until the 5:20 left in the first. The Eagles were all over the Panthers like a shadow, not allowing them to even get a pass off before they would steal the ball and add more points. The Panthers began to recover after Panther coach Jerome Clyburn called for a time out and settled his crew down.
At the end of the first quarter, the Panthers were finding some mojo, getting passes to work, and were tracking as the Golden Eagles were up 22-14.
In the second, it was Ridgeview who got hot and began to claw their way back into the match, drawing the score to 22-20 at the 6:19 mark as they showed the home crowd they were not ready to sit back and let Fleming Island ruin their party. At the half, the Panthers were still behind, but kept it to a respectable and recoverable 42-29 as the teams headed to the locker room to adjust.
In the third, it seemed Chandler found the secret sauce as Fleming Island came out on fire and lit up the scoreboard like it was already Christmas.
“We were great making the extra pass and the guys were being unselfish,” said Chandler. “Our shooters were giving up the extra pass getting it over to our hot shooter and that’s what it’s all about.”
On his way to a total of 19 points on the night, senior Justin St. Laurent found the basket for 13 points in the third quarter alone, hitting a team high five 3-pointers with the last one coming as a buzzer beater to end the third quarter. During the quarter, as the Golden Eagles would hit more points from the field, the Panthers began getting frustrated and became complacent with their ball handling. Fleming Island took full advantage with 16 steals on the night, most in the third quarter. As the buzzer went off on St. Laurent’s shot, the scoreboard lit up 70-38 with another quarter still to go.
With the game firmly in hand, Chandler wasted no time after the throw-in and swapped the entire court out with the rest of his players who did not yet see any time.
In the fourth, Ridgeview was able to rack up another seven points and held Fleming Island to six, but would do no better to make the final score softer with a 76-45 final on home opening night.
Other hot Golden Eagles were junior Elias Martin with 12 points, and senior Kalib Pogue with 11 points, three 3-pointers. Junior Sebastian Astor had 10 points, four steals, and eight assists on the night.
“We keep playing like we did tonight and we have a shot to be a very, very good basketball team this season,” said Chandler, who has district 4-8A foes Bartram Trail on December 7 and travels to Buchholz on December 11. Oakleaf, also in district 4-8A, hosts the Eagles on December 14.
For the Panthers, Augustin Kingambe had 10 points, Courtney Rockett had 10 points; 2 three pointers. Matt Anki rounded out the leaders with 8 points, 2 three pointers.
Fleming Island took the court Saturday at the Jackie Simmons Classic at Andrew Jackson High School with a strong 63-59 win over 8A-Tallahassee Lincoln, who lost in the region 1-8A final last year to 8A-runnerup Creekside. Grafals pumped in 32 points with Elias Martin adding a team-leading 10 rebounds and two blocked shots.