The Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School boys’ basketball team is traveling on familiar ground.
After a three-year drought the Tiger Sharks (15-13) are back the Region 1 playoffs after a runner-up finish in the District 4-1A tournament last week.
The third-seeded Tiger Sharks routed Liberty County in the quarterfinals and upset second-seeded South Walton in the semifinals before losing to top-ranked West Gadsden in the title game.
“For the first time in three years we are in the playoffs and I’d rather be in than not,” said PSJ coach Derek Kurnitsky. “There are a lot of people when we were 7-9 before Christmas who probably didn’t think we’d be here.
“The kids have done a great job. They have preserved and worked hard. I am proud of them.”
The Tiger Sharks will travel to Chipley 7 p.m. CT on Tuesday in a Region 1-1A quarterfinal.
“They are a high-ranked team, but hey, this is why they play the games,” Kurnitsky said.
The game that clinched a playoff berth was the semifinal defeat of South Walton.
The Seahawks beat Port St. Joe twice during the regular season and in order to shake things up a bit in the third meeting, the Tiger Sharks opened in a 2-3 zone.
“They beat us twice by double digits,” Kurnitsky said. “I wanted to do something outside the box and I never play zone. We came out in a zone and never came out of it. It confused them, missed shots and missed passes.”
Port St. Joe jumped up 17-5 early and after South Walton closed to 27-19, the Seahawks drew no closer.
The Tiger Sharks pushed the lead by hitting 15 of 21 free throws in the final period.
“We sealed it at the line,” Kurnitsky said. “We played our all-around best game of the season, offense, defense, on the boards.”
The Tiger Sharks were led by T. J. Williams who had 34 points.
Marquez Johnson added 12, Jarkeice Davis eight, Natron Lee and Marcel Johnson each had four points.
Port St. Joe advanced to play West Gadsden and, Kurnitsky said, hung tough for one half before losing gas in the second and falling 58-37.
“We just ran out of gas in the second half,” Kurnitsky said. “They had one of those nights and we didn’t.”
Sergio Clemons had eight points to lead Port St. Joe, with Lee adding seven and Marquez Johnson five points.
Davis, Marcel Johnson and Kyran Batson each scored four points, Williams was held to three and Caleb Odom scored two points.
The rout of Liberty County in the opening round allowed Kurnitsky to empty his bench with 11 players scoring, led by 13 from Williams and 12 from Marquez Johnson. Clemons, Batson and Chad Quinn all had scored six points.