GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Clay High bolted to a 9-0 start in front of a raucous home gym crowd and looked to be the one team in the area that might stay with the ‘Chaos’ defense of Fleming Island High, but three fourth quarter steals from guard Khalid Pogue and a Gianfranco Grafal thunder-dunk off the rim of a missed three pointer ignited a fourth quarter surge for the Golden Eagles in their 66-61 non-district win Friday night at Clay High School.
“That fast start they had was because they have great athletes like us,” said Grafals, who has the Golden Eagles at 11-1 overall and led all scorers with 26 points on the night. “We rely on our training and conditioning to make the fourth quarter ours. The dunk was just the start.”
Clay opened with their 9-0 spurt behind center Cooper Vaughan who landed two tough inside shots behind a three-pointer from guard Tre Griner as the game opened to a feverish pitch with Clay hitting shots and Fleming Island unable to find the net.
“We had a good first three quarters and I thought we matched up right with them,” said Vaughan, who has been the focal point of a 10-4 season for Clay. “We just have to carry it into the fourth quarter. The February 1 game will be different.”
With Clay implementing a scheme very similiar to the Fleming Island fast-pace, attack defense, the Blue Devils took the first punch to the Golden Eagles and prevailed through a 19-12 lead at the first quarter.
After the 9-0 start, Fleming Island coach Traavis Chandler opted to wholesale change his lineup with a smaller, faster package of guards Steele Perry, Khalid Pogue and Marc Inman to combat the Clay assault.
“I credit the guys off the bench with keeping the game close enough for us to take the fourth quarter,” said Chandler. “We knew they would be fast, but we also know we can take the pace for four quarters. I tried to push our own pace back in the first quarter to not let the game get away from us.”
Chandler’s move to speed up the line up payed off with steals from Pogue and Perry to close the gap.
The game stalled at a seven point gap throgh the second quarter as both teams stood toe-to-toe from baseline to baseline to end the half at 31-26 with both teams getting six steals in the stanza and Clay’s Jaylin Copeland and Popue both hitting late threes to keep the score close. A thunderous shot block from Perry off a three point attempt from Clay’s Brishaun Britt put the Golden Eagles into the locker room with a momentum advantage.
“Cooper played the way as captain should play against a very good team,” said Clay coach Jared Moses. “We knew we could challenge them by running the pace like we do. I’ve been working to get the program back to the same standard as the 1990s and at least put us in the conversation of great teams in the county.”
After the halftime break, Pogue started the Fleming Island wake up call with a three pointer in front of the Clay fan section with Copeland answering the shot with his own three pointer as both teams traded big punches to keep the fervor at a high pitch.
A layup off a rebound from Fleming Island forward Jordan Miles had the Golden Eagles smelling a turnaround at 34-33, but Clay hit two free throws and a Vaughan nailed a rebound jumper to push Clay back up 38-33 before Aaron Brown nailed a three pointer from the corner for Fleming Island to close the gap back to two points, 38-36.
Miles hit one of two free throws to put the score at 38-37, but a Griner jumper kept Clay up 40-37 before Copeland hit another three to 44-38 as Clay looked to keep the Fleming Island attack at bay.
“We were not that worried at that point even though we were still down,” said Grafals. “I kept telling the guys to keep shooting and they would fall.”
Fleming Island would start the fourth down 44-40 with Britt nailing a three pointer to end the quarter.
A Vaughan offensive rebound to jumper pushed the lead to 46-40 with Vaughan hitting two free throws 30 seconds later to put Clay up 48-41 in what seemed an insurmountable lead with just six minutes remaining in the game.
Foul shots and a big three pointer from Perry inched the Fleming Island gap to 50-46 at 4:58 with Clay staying just out of reach before Fleming Island guard Sebastian Astor hit a layup to 52-50 and Pogue steal to Grafals layup finally getting the score knotted at 54-54 at 4:05.
Another steal from Pogue who popped off three point shot attempt led to Grafals’ game-changing rebound and dunk that fueled the Golden Eagle finish.
With Fleming Island up 56-54, Clay answered again with Griner nailing a three pointer to put the lead back in Clay’s side of the scoreboard, but Grafals ended the game with three buckets to put Fleming Island up 64-59 with 1:17 to go. Brown hit a final shot for Clay with Pogue getting one final steal to seal the game.
Fleming Island returns to their gym on Tues., Jan. 15 for a district contest with Buchholz with Oakleaf (Jan. 18), Creekside (Jan. 24) and Bartram Trail (Jan. 25) to follow; all district matches.
Standings as of Jan. 14
Fleming Island (11-1)
Nov. 20 at Ed White Won 63-38 (Pre)
Nov. 21 vs. Ribault Won 66-48 (Pre)
Nov. 29 at RHS Won 76-45
Justin St. Laurent 19 Pts, 5 3-Ptrs; Elias Martin 12 Pts, 10 Reb; Khalid Pogue 11 Pts, 3 3-Ptrs; Jordan Miles 10 Reb
Dec. 1 vs. Lincoln Won 63-59
Gianfranco Grafals 32 Pts, 9 Reb; Elias Martin 10 Pts, 10 Reb; Sebastian Astor 10 Reb, 8 Assists, 3 Steals; Khalid Pogue 4 Assists, 3 Steals
Dec. 7 vs. Bartram Trail Won 59-47
Gianfranco Grafals 21 Pts; Sebastian Astor 15 Pts, 5 Steals, 5 Assists; Elias Martin 7 Reb;
Dec. 11 at Buchholz Won 62-44
Dec. 14 at Oakleaf Won 64-48
Dec. 20 vs. Thomas County Central Won 71-32
Dec. 21 vs. Atlantic Coast Won 88-74
Jan. 22 vs. University Christian Lost 51-49
Fleming Island 11-1, 4-0
Bartram Trail 9-6, 3-1
Buchholz 7-9, 2-2
Oakleaf 9-5, 1-3
Creekside 5-11, 0-4
Jan. 10 at Creekside Won 48-21
Jan. 11 at Clay Won 66-61
Jan. 15 vs. Buchholz
Jan. 18 vs. Oakleaf
Jan. 24 vs. Creekside
Jan. 25 at Bartram Trail
Feb. 1 vs. Clay
Feb. 5 vs. Raines
Feb. 8 at Orange Park
Nov. 28 at Ponte Vedra Lost 59-55
Nov. 30 vs. RHS Won 67-57
Dec. 1 vs. Lake Minneola Won 40-30
Dec. 6 at CHS Won 40-36
Dec. 7 vs. OPHS Won 44-24
Dec. 11 at Bartram Trail Lost 48-29
Dec. 14 vs. Fleming Island Lost 64-48
Dec. 27 vs. Lee Won 54-52
Dec. 28 vs. Washington County GA Lost 69-41
Dec. 29 vs. Baker County Won 55-46
Jan. 4 vs. Wolfson Won 55-46
Jan. 8 vs. Creekside Won 56-33
Jan. 11 vs. Fletcher Won 61-42
Jan. 12 at Buchholz Lost 35-32
Jan. 15 vs. Bartram Trail
Jan. 18 at FIHS
Jan. 22 at Creekside
Jan. 24 vs. Buchholz
Jan. 25 at OPHS
Jan. 29 vs. Clay
Feb. 5 vs. Sandalwood
Feb. 7 vs. Middleburg