The Pirates boys basketball team lost to Palatka, 64-47, Saturday, Feb. 12. Matanzas will travel to Terry Parker Thursday, Feb. 17, to play in the regional quarterfinals.
Three minutes into the first quarter of the District 4-4A championship Saturday, Feb. 12, the Matanzas Pirates boys basketball team was leading 8-2 over Palatka. The pace of the game fit Matanzas and kept the speed of Palatka at bay.
After leading 8-2, the Pirates closed out the first quarter on a 4-0 run and led 12-8. In the second quarter, Palatka nailed back-to-back 3-pointers and took a 17-16 lead. The game’s intensity picked up and so did Palatka’s full-court press.
Heading into halftime, Palatka led 31-26.
Palatka (23-3) came into the game as the No. 1 seed in the tournament, and the Panthers kept the defensive pressure on the Pirates.
But as the clock ticked and got deeper into the third quarter, a few of the Pirates players were in foul trouble. That put Pirates coach Tony Zaksewicz in a bind.
“We handled (the press) well in the first half,” Zaksewicz said. “When Jay Jones had to come out with foul trouble, we lost our one true ball handler. At that point, things started falling apart.”
The Panthers would go on to win 64-47, but not all is lost for Zaksewicz’ Pirates crew.
The Pirates were led in scoring by seniors Jalen Hancock (13 points) and Wendell Powell (10 points).
“Through the first half, it was a competitive game because we were playing our pace,” Zaksewicz said. “In the second half, we fell victim of trying to run with them, and they are too athletic and have too much depth.”
That was the school’s first appearance in a district championship game and, despite the loss, the Pirates are still competing in the state playoffs Thursday.
“In the entire state of Florida in the Class 4A classification, we are one of only 32 teams still playing — that’s an honor,” Zaksewicz said.
Now, the Pirates (15-13) must put the Palatka game behind them and focus on their next opponent, Zaksewicz said.
The Pirates will travel north to take on Terry Parker Thursday, Feb. 17, in the Class 4A regional quarterfinals. Matanzas didn’t play Terry Parker this season.
And Zaksewicz said his team won’t be working on anything special in the practices leading up to their first state playoff game. Zaksewicz said that at this point in the season, the team isn’t adding much to its playbook. Instead, it’s a matter of fine-tuning the things that has brought the team to this point.
“We need to focus on winning games and not just be happy qualifying,” he said.
The key factor for this year’s team, Zaksewicz said, was his players staying healthy. Last season’s team saw only two varsity players make it through the season without missing time because of injury. Zaksewicz said staying healthy pays dividends.
“The season is a marathon,” he said. “We started our preseason workouts back in early September. This has been a season of ups and downs, and all the hard work has paid off in the district playoffs. We’re hoping it will continue to carry in the states.”