Raiders defeat Wildcats; unbeaten in district

“K-Man”: We haven’t played our best game yet

By Ray DiMonda
Posted 1/31/18

ORANGE PARK – Friday night, Orange Park High School’s boys’ basketball sent a clear message to the rest of District 4-6.

“It’s nice… undefeated in the district! We have come a long …

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Raiders defeat Wildcats; unbeaten in district

“K-Man”: We haven’t played our best game yet

Posted

ORANGE PARK – Friday night, Orange Park High School’s boys’ basketball sent a clear message to the rest of District 4-6.

“It’s nice… undefeated in the district! We have come a long way in four years” said Raider Head Coach Derek Kurnitsky. “Four years ago when we started this journey, we only won a couple district games, so we’ve come a long way. It’s all them!”

As the last hurdle to an undefeated District 4-6A slate came into the Raiderdome with visiting Baker County, the Raiders used their trademark smothering defense and a near unstoppable inside offensive attack to send notice they are ready for post season as they closed out an unbeaten district run by easily handling the Wildcats with an impressive 72-53 beatdown in front of the home crowd.

It wasn’t all Orange Park from minute one as the Raiders needed the first quarter to settle in.

“It seems like we just always have those first quarter jitters. I don’t know what it is?” said Kurnitsky.

Raider center Davontai Crutch would finally break the ice with Orange Park’s first point with a free throw almost two minutes into the game. The Raiders went punch for punch with the Wildcats until Baker County put seven points on the board. Then Orange Park hit a snag missing five shots in a row, as Baker County came down with the rebounds and put points up with a 13-6 lead. With 1:55 left in the first, Kurnitsky knew enough was enough and called a full time out.

“During the time out, we just talked about our game plan, execute,” said Kurnitsky. “Sometimes we lose focus on what our game plan is. So I just said let’s refocus, let’s stick with it, it’s okay, and just stick with it.”

Once the Raiders took a nice cleansing breath, back on the court it was like a different team. In the rest of the quarter, the Wildcats couldn’t buy a basket as the Raiders closed down shop. At the other end of the court, it was back to pushing inside, scoring baskets and drawing fouls. While still down 13-12, the momentum shift was obvious. Raider basketball was checking in.

“We have a lot of experience- we’ve been here before,” said Kurnitsky

Early in the second, it was another Crutch basket to break through as the Raiders took the lead 14-13 and never looked back. Crutch would rack up 14 points on the night, six of eight on free throws. After the first period time out and recalibration, the Raiders got back to the original game plan and stuck with it. The drives inside worked almost every time as the Raider defense just couldn’t be answered by Baker County’s offense. The Wildcats couldn’t find any answers to the Raider hard press defense. By bringing the defense to the Wildcats before half court, and most times right from the throw-in; Orange Park never went easy on the Wildcats and Baker County had nothing for them.

Baker County tried shutting down Raider John Abate, holding him to only two points in each quarter of the first half. Being the gamesman he is, Abate used that to draw the heat, leaving his teammates open. Ty McBride sensed the opportunity, seized it and added another six points for his team in the quarter. McBride ended the night with a team high 20 points and two 3-pointers. The Raiders used the 15 point quarter to go into the locker room with 27 points on the board, up 27-19.

Out of the locker room in the third, Abate caught on fire as he drove hard inside for a couple, drew two fouls and capped the quarter off with a 3-pointer. Abate accounted for nine third quarter points on his own. On the night, Abate finished with 15 points, 2 of 3 on free throws, and one 3-pointer.

Defensively, Orange Park guard Keneth Monterola smothered the Wildcats, cashing in on several takeaways. The poise and confidence were evident as the Raiders recovered a rebound late in the quarter. With 40 seconds left in the third quarter, they worked the ball around to burn off time and put the ball into Monterola’s hands. Waiting for the clock to run down, with only four seconds left, he broke inside, hit a perfect layup, and put another two points on the pile as the buzzer sounded on the 23 point Raider third quarter. The defensive effort held Baker to 14 third quarter points for a 50-33 lead.

In the fourth, it was more of the same as Orange Park kept the tempo high and racked up points while throwing a defensive blanket over Baker County. Every time the Wildcats drove and were foiled, Orange Park came down with the rebound and pushed the ball up court for more points.

“I thought we really improved on the boards! We’ve gone with a little bigger of a line up and I feel we did real well tonight,” said Kurnitsky.

With the comfortable lead, the Raiders used the opportunity to get some play time for the non-starters. By time the clock hit zeros, eight different Raiders scored in the fourth quarter, 22 point effort. The Wildcats were held to 20 fourth quarter points on the way to their 72-55 defeat.

As the Raiders get ready to run in the post season, Kurnitsky was asked about where his team is.

“I’m happy. I don’t think we’re playing perfect; we haven’t done a full four quarters yet, but it’s time,” said Kurnitsky. “I just told them in the locker room; it’s time. It’s starting to get serious. We haven’t peaked yet. We haven’t played our best game yet.”

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