by JOE CARLINO
Hernando Sun Sports Reporter
Last season, the Nature Coast Sharks were riding high and flying on all cylinders, potentially boasting a squad which could’ve had a chance at seeing Lakeland and the state semifinals again. However, they lost a humongous lead to the now-defunct Ridgewood Rams on their home court in the Sweet 16.
Coming into this year’s iteration of the FHSAA Class 6A tournament, however, the Sharks squad was put in an unfamiliar position: playing opponents as a district runner-up. Such was the case Thursday night, when they had to travel south to Anclote High School for, yes, a win-or-go-home game against Pasco County’s group of Sharks.
And despite a slow start and bumpy ending, Hernando County’s squad managed to prevail on enemy soil, defeating the 6A District 8 champion Sharks 46-43.
Senior guard Robert Gomez ended the contest with 14 points, and junior center Orien Adams had a game-high 17 points in yet another double-double (15 rebounds).
“We (Nature Coast) have been in the FHSAA playoffs for 10 years now, so it’s not uncharted territory for us,” said head coach Dave Pisarcik. “This was a very tough game for our guys; credit goes to Anclote, they’re a great squad. I feel like we generated enough of a game plan to come away with the victory.”
Nature Coast opened the game slow, being put in an early 9-2 deficit against Anclote, primarily aided by poor decision making and a hungry opponent that knew how dangerous their adversary could be when they get hot. Such was the case in the second, as Pisarcik’s squad scored 12 to enter halftime tied at 16.
After the intermission period, however, a proverbial “light switch” clicked on the California Street based team, because everything seemed to go right for them in the third quarter. Buckets kept falling, their defense was in lockdown mode and they outscored Anclote 16-6 to take a 32-22 lead entering the final period.
In the final quarter, with roughly five and a half minutes left, Anclote brought the deficit down to one on a Jacobie Forrest three-pointer, but from there the Sharks’ defense was able to do just enough to force Anclote to play from behind. A double bonus situation with under a minute saw senior guard Brandon Clarke and junior guard Cai Teague sink four free throws, and while Anclote did have a chance with under 10 seconds to force overtime, their last shot was inaccurate, and Nature Coast survived.
Nature Coast now advances to Tuesday night’s FHSAA Class 6A, Region II semifinal against the Crystal River Pirates from Crystal River. When these two squads last met up, the Pirates utilized the strategy of the Central Bears to pry the district title away from Pisarcik’s squad. That said, a nice statistic from former Sun reporter Chris Bernhardt last week (confirmed by MaxPreps search) is interesting: in the last 10 seasons, a Pisarcik-led Sharks team has lost the district championship three times. In the previous two matchups (2011 v. Wiregrass Ranch, 2017 v. Central), Nature Coast defeated the champion on their court to advance to the Elite Eight.
FHSAA CLASS 6A REGION II SEMFINAL
R7 NATURE COAST SHARKS V. W7 CRYSTAL RIVER PIRATES @ 7PM
LOCATION: CRYSTAL RIVER HIGH SCHOOL, 3195 CRYSTAL RIVER HIGH DRIVE
WINNER ADVANCES TO 6A REGION II FINAL AGAINST PALATKA/EASTSIDE WINNER ON 3/1/19