Making history: Ponte Vedra boys basketball team reaches 1st title game

The Ponte Vedra boys basketball team will play for a state championship on Saturday.

JT Kelly hit the biggest shots of his career on Thursday night.

The senior on the Ponte Vedra basketball team had his team’s final five points of the game in the final 51 seconds to help send the Sharks to a 57-54 win over Winter Haven in the Class 6A state semifinals in Lakeland.

The Sharks (27-3) will face Stuart Martin County (25-4) on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. Luke Pirris and Ross Candelino led Ponte Vedra with 15 points apiece. Kelly added 14 and a pair of signature moments that have the Sharks on the doorstep of history. They’ve never been this deep into the postseason, and teams from St. Johns County seldom get a chance to play for a title.

It had been 20 years, almost to the day, since a boys basketball team from St. Johns brought home the only FHSAA state championship in county history.

Nease beat Key West 75-50 for the Class 3A state title on March 8, 2002.

Kelly provided the biggest plays of all for the Sharks.

Candelino had a drive and bucket with 1:22 to play to get Ponte Vedra within 53-52 before Kelly came up huge.

After the Blue Devils (22-8) hit a free throw, Kelly responded with his third 3-pointer of the game, a dagger with 51 seconds to play. Winter Haven turned it over after that and resorted to intentional fouls over the next 20 seconds. Kelly was the recipient of the foul that pushed the Sharks into the bonus. He sank both of his free throws with 16 seconds to play for the final margin, and the Blue Devils missed a pair of 3-point attempts at the finish.

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.