ORANGE PARK – “That was a gut check win right there” was the comment from Orange Park Raider Head Coach Derek Kurnitsky after his team drove across town to face off against the Ridgeview …
ORANGE PARK – “That was a gut check win right there” was the comment from Orange Park Raider Head Coach Derek Kurnitsky after his team drove across town to face off against the Ridgeview Panthers as they climbed a step closer to first place in district 4-6A.
The Panthers came out very physical and went toe-to-toe with the Raiders all night. At the half it was anyone’s game. Orange Park drained a John Abate 3-pointer with 6 seconds on the clock to reclaim the lead 27-25 as the teams went into the locker rooms. In the third quarter, it was Raider time as Orange Park hit several three pointers for a double-digit lead and never looked back as they went on to a 59-42 road victory.
“I got puppies out there; but, they are as cool as the other side of the pillow. I saw it in my first pre-season game. This group doesn’t get rattled.”
The first and second quarter were noneventful as the teams traded baskets highlighted by Panther Ethan Weiskircher getting hot with three 3-pointers and another two points from the field in the first quarter alone. As quick as Weiskircher got hot, the Raiders tightened the defensive noose, shut him down for the rest of the game and forced the Panthers to look elsewhere for help. Notably missing early on was the OP trademark tight man-to-man defense the Raiders are known for.
After the half break, it was a Raider-thon second half where John Abate sunk two more 3-pointers on his way to a team high 14 points on the night which opened up a lead that the Panthers could not recover from. The Raider defense was spot on and was highlighted late in the third quarter as the Panthers had a breakaway, lined up for what looked like an easy lay-up, but was defended perfectly by Raider Jeremy Verde. Verde trailed, then at the right second, reached around the ball and deflected the ball without drawing the foul. As the Raider bench lit up on the play, the Panthers couldn’t find an answer to slow the Raiders as they marched their way to an 11-point victory.
“We’re Orange Park; we’ve gone from the hunter, to the hunted,” said Kurnitsky. “We’ve won back-to-back district championships and everybody comes out to beat the Raiders. We get everybody’s best shot. We haven’t been matching that intensity. Tonight was like the first time I saw them really hungry!”
With the win, the Raiders are locked in second place behind Westside High who are 2-0 in district.