The Central Bears (20-6) downed the Weeki Wachee Hornets (8-19) by an 89-54 margin in the 4A District 9 semifinal on Thursday night. The two squads met for the third time this season with Central taking the first two in largely dominant fashion. This one was no different. After a tight first quarter, the Bears rode a dominant second frame to begin pulling away at John J. Sedlack Court. Head Coach Matt Zandecki was pleased with his team’s performance and credited the Hornets after the matchup.
“I think Weeki Wachee is a very talented team, and I knew we were going to get their best shot with Garcia, Priester, and Stumpf,” Coach Zandecki said. “They are good players. So, I knew they were going to come out to play and I think they had all 27 points in the first half. So, I thought if we could weather that storm, we could wear them down eventually, and I think that is kind of what happened. We got a little bit of foul trouble in the beginning, but overall, I think we kind of just wore them down […]”
The first quarter was a back-and-forth affair. The visitors struck first with a three-pointer from Senior Matthew Stumpf. The teams would trade blows until late in the opening frame with the Hornets up 15-14. With 21 seconds remaining until roughly 4:40 left in the second, the Bears outscored the Hornets 12-1. A group effort like much of the night, Sophomore PG Ethan Bergantino helped lead this stretch with a steal and a pair of baskets. Weeki Wachee would get going again, but not enough to curtail the Bears’ momentum.
“It was a big game,” Coach Zandecki said. “I think that we just kind of came out. We were not playing really as fundamental as we usually do. Leaving our feet, going for every steal, taking the first open shot. I think the game just kind of slowed down for us. Sometimes when you come out hyped up, that is what happens. You like every shot you see, but I just thought we did a better job moving the ball and had good teammates.”
Senior Jean Garcia and Stumpf would combine for three treys throughout the rest of the second period, which helped them stay within striking distance at half. The visitors would not make nearly enough of them in the second half to keep up, though. Central’s 12-point lead quickly ballooned throughout the third and into the fourth quarter thanks to another 15-5 stretch early in the final frame. Bergantino and Senior David Villarroel helped facilitate the run that put them up by 32 late in the game. Senior Jerome “JD” Watson also slammed down a dunk that elicited a roar from the crowd during this stretch. At this point in the matchup, no number of threes was going to save the outmanned Hornets from the Bears’ onslaught.
“They live and die by the three pointer,” said Coach Zandecki. “Sometimes, we think we can test threes. If we get long rebounds. It sets up our transition. That is part of it, but with Stumpf you cannot give him an open look […] I thought that they kind of, at the end, started to take some real contested shots because they were not getting good shots, and I think that is a credit to our defense.”
It will be Central’s eighth district final appearance in nine years when they take on the Hernando Leopards (13-14) on Saturday. The Purple and Gold put the finishing touches on a 41-40 over Nature Coast in their own semifinal on Thursday. The Bears will also be going for their third straight district championship in a row when they host the Leopards this weekend.