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Bears Dispatch Hornets and Leopards to 3-Peat as District Champions

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The Central Bears (21-6) downed the Weeki Wachee Hornets (8-19) by an 89-54 margin in the 4A District 9 semifinal on Thursday night, Feb. 8. 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.”

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Central High, 21, David Villarroel elevates for a shot while defended by Weeki Wachee High, 1, Jean Garcia and, 2, Alex Wilson. [Credit: Joe DiCristofalo]

Central High, 21, David Villarroel elevates for a shot while defended by Weeki Wachee High, 1, Jean Garcia and, 2, Alex Wilson. [Credit: Joe DiCristofalo]
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 the half. However, the visitors would not make nearly enough of them in the second half to keep up. 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.

“I think this team shows a lot of perseverance throughout the year… we faced a lot of adversity in regard to injuries but never quit, continued to give max effort at practices, and had role players step up throughout the year,” said Coach Zandecki.

Central went on to defeat the Hernando Leopards 82-65 in the district championship on Feb. 10. It was the Navy and Silver’s eighth district final appearance in nine seasons and their third district championship in as many years. Villarroel led the way with 26 points, 11, rebounds, and 6 assists, but he was not the only star of the night. Four other Central players scored double-digit points on Saturday: Bergantino (18), Tykell Williams (13), Braden Joyner (11), and Watson (11). The Bears will go on to play the Lakewood Spartans (10-15) in the regional quarterfinal on Thursday night, Feb. 15..

“It is tough to repeat… or three-peat,” Coach Zandecki said. “I think we faced a lot of our opponents’ best games… and always found a way to get it done and every time we lost… we did not hang our head. We went back into the gym with an underdog mentality and were able to take our losses and turn them into a way for us to improve… we learned from our losses. The team really seems close and likes each other so they are a pleasure/privilege to coach.”

Weeki Wachee High, 14, Isaac Priester draws the attention of Central High, 2, Jerome “JD” Watson and, 25, Tykel Williams. [Credit: Joe DiCristofalo]

Weeki Wachee High, 14, Isaac Priester draws the attention of Central High, 2, Jerome “JD” Watson and, 25, Tykel Williams. [Credit: Joe DiCristofalo]

Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch is a Graduate with Distinction, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. He's written numerous articles reporting on Florida Gators football, basketball, and soccer teams; the sports of rugby, basketball, professional baseball, hockey, and the NFL Draft. Prior to Hernando Sun he was a contributor to ESPN, Gainesville, FL and Gator Country Multimedia, Inc. in Gainesville, FL, and Stadium Gale.
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