ORANGE PARK – Coming off a three game win streak, the visiting Oakleaf Knights basketball team walked into the Raiderdome looking pretty confident and played as much, quickly building a 12-0 lead over the host Orange Park Raiders.
But on a night where the Raiderdome was full to capacity, standing room only, the band tucked in the corner, a team of scrappy kids who wouldn’t quit clawed their way back in, 24-19 at the half.
“Sometimes you just have to hang around and survive a little bit” said Raider Head Coach Derek “Coach K” Kurnitsky. “We played bad up front and had to get over the nerves. We simply focused more and got our confidence.”
On a lay-up to tie, Orange Park guard Kadin Elmore got fouled, then sunk the free-throw to go up 43-42 with 8.6 seconds to play. On the throw-in, the Knights could only get one shot off, hit the rim and ran out of time before trying to get the rebound and get the ball off once again, causing the Raiderdome to exploded with Orange Park celebration, and sending the Knights home in the agony of defeat.
At the end of the first, Orange Park was flying all over the court, but found themselves in a 15-5 hole.
After the break for the quarter, the Raiders began finding their stride, and deployed some tiger claws to scratch, kick, and fight their way back in. Going into the half, the Raiders battled back to a 24-19 deficit, but things were clicking.
“I told them, just settle down… just settle down,” said Kurnitsky. “We should have been down by 20 at the half, but because of their will to fight, we were only down five.”
The third quarter was slow to get going as no one put any points up for almost four minutes. Once the cork got pulled out, things picked up. Just when his team needed it, Raider forward D’marre Craddock hit a three-pointer to get the Raiders within two, 26-24. At the end of the third, the Raiders were still down, but only by two, 28-26.
The final quarter was a maddening pace with both teams leaving everything they had on the court.
At 7:40, Orange Park finally tied 28-28.
At 5:26, the Raiders had the lead, 34-31. The Knights were not letting up at all and kept it a dual within a single point until :56 seconds, when Oakleaf guard Quintez Johnson put the Knights back up 41-38.
On the Raider offensive attack, forward Josiah Sabino hit to get the Raiders to 41-40 with 42.1 left to play.
On the Oakleaf counter, Kurnitsky called for an intention foul as Oakleaf attempted to drain the clock passing the ball. Javon Dickerson grabbed Johnson’s arm to stop the clock and give the Raiders a chance. If Johnson hit both shots, the Raiders would need a three-pointer to tie and take it to overtime.
Johnson missed the first, then hit the second bringing the score to 42-40 with 23.9 seconds to play.
On the throw-in, Orange Park worked the ball back to Elmore looking for him to work more of his magic.
“I stayed with the pick and roll. They couldn’t guard me so we were going to keep going back to it.” said Elmore, who ended the night with 19 points. “I tried to attack and get fouled, but I didn’t think it went in. I was on my back, looking up and watched it go in and I thank God for that.”
The drive tied the game at 42-42 and Elmore, getting fouled, went to the line for a single free throw.
“It was just another free throw. It’s all good,” said Elmore. “I practice free throws for long periods of times, so I wasn’t too worried about it.”
His throw was nothing but net, giving the Raiders a 43-42 lead. The Knights had one final charge left with 8.6 seconds to work with. Kurnitsky called timeout and set his defense.
“I play situational basketball and we practice this. I got my defense set and put it in their hands” said Kurnitsky. “These kids, they did it, not me.”
The Raiders went to a man-on-man defense, but let Oakleaf get the throw-in quickly, then pounced on them. The Knights worked the ball to Markel Allums who threw it up for a 3-pointer from the corner, only to have the ball hit the far side of the rim. Dewane Copeland had the final chance. The clock would run out with Copeland trying to get a handle on the ball with Raider Jeremy Monterola fighting Copeland for the ball under the hoop as the buzzer went off to close the book on the 43-42 comeback victory.