GREEN COVE SPRINGS - Clay High had the lead all the way up to the two minute mark before the Orange Park High Raiders basketball team started cashing in on free throws to beat the Blue Devils 52-43 in the season opener for the Raiders. Clay opened with a loss to Bartram Trail in similar fashion on Friday.
"That's why you practice free throws a lot in practice," said Orange Park coach Derek Kurnitsky. "Conley (assistant coach John Conley) gave a heck of a halftime speech in there. He had all those kids as junior varsity players and he was not happy about that first half."
At the 2:13 to go mark, Orange Park guard Javon Dickerson got three offensive rebounds in a scramble under the boards before sinking a layup that had a bonus free throw added to it to put the Raiders up 42-41.
From there, with the Blue Devils hitting the double bonus mark on fouls, the Raiders inched away with free throws from Josiah Sabino, who had a game-high 22 points, D'Marre Craddock, Corey Thomas, 11 points, and a four-pack from Dustin Campbell to seal the game.
"We hit all but one of 11 free throws in that final stretch of the game," said Kurnitsky. "Plus, the clock stopped. If we didn't get them, the game could have swung the other way real fast."
Campbell's four free throws at the :25 mark came by way of a backcourt foul and technical foul of the befuddled Clay defense.
"We'll take them any way we can," said Kurnitsky.
Clay had the lead for the first three quarters; 12-9; 24-19 and 37-25 off tenacious man-to-man defense and tough inside rebounding from newcomer Brandon Peavy and Dylan Griffin, plus a slew of offensive charge fouls induced from center Valdez Seymour on the hard-driving Raiders.
Clay had a 13-6 scoring gap in the third period with Peavy hitting an early three pointer followed by a steal from D'Maurion Frazier to a Tre Griner layup as the Blue Devils looked to control the game to the finish. Peavy and Griffin finished the third period with driving layups to score the game 37-25 before Sabino opened the fourth with a three pointer and a jumper plus one three pointer to squelch the raucous Clay fans.
A second Sabino three point layup plus free throw play put the game at 39-38 for Clay as the momentum started turning toward the Raider bench.
"Those three point plays are as good as dunks in tight games," said Kurnitsky.
Valdez scored his own layup plus one to delay the lead change by a minute, but the foul situation for Clay gave Orange Park the advantage in the final two minutes.