One thing is absolutely certain about tonight's Class 5A, Region II quarterfinal at Nature Coast: the Sharks will win.
No, that's not a bold prediction on the host team's fortunes. Coincidentally, Nature Coast's opponent, Anclote, utilizes the same mascot.
The Sharks – the ones that call Hernando County home – take on the Holiday-based Sharks starting at 7 p.m.
"I think we're having a good week of practice. Guys are working hard," Nature Coast head coach Dave Pisarcik said Wednesday. "And I think they're ready for the challenge to be able to go deep in the postseason."
That's what Nature Coast (23-3) has made a habit of doing the last three years, when it has advanced to at least the Elite Eight.
However, with junior forward Rohan Blackwood as the only returning starter from the team's state semifinal tilt a season ago, it's hard to call this an experienced crew.
"Being around it and actually playing in the game is two different things," Pisarcik said. "I think we've got the type of kids who have been put in situations all year that they haven't been in and they needed to produce, and they've done a great job."
They've certainly been tested. During last week's 5A-District 7 Tournament in Eustis, the Sharks pulled out two wins by the skin of their collective teeth.
First they had to rally in the final minute to defeat Tavares in the semifinals. Then in Friday night's final against Eustis, they blew a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter and had to come back in overtime.
If senior point guard Vic Davila hadn't knocked down a 3-pointer with just over four seconds remaining, Nature Coast would be on the road as the district runner-up.
"Our district was one of the toughest I've seen and one of the closest," Pisarcik said. "Any team could have won that district and we're very fortunate to come out as district champs. And I think it helped us with our mental edge and getting us ready for the (regional) playoffs."
One issue that haunted Pisarcik prior to the 5A-7 Tournament is that his club, undefeated in district play, would have to defeat opponents for the third time.
That hasn't gone away now that Nature Coast has reached the regional level.
Typically at this point, teams face unfamiliar opponents. But Anclote (17-9) and Nature Coast met twice in the regular season, with Nature Coast winning in both instances.
The first matchup came way back in November, when Nature Coast dominated Anclote in Brooksville, 66-35.
A rematch in Pasco County on Jan. 28 was far more competitive, with Nature Coast pulling out a 63-53 triumph.
Though the outcome remained the same, the difference in score exhibits the considerable strides made by Anclote's Sharks over the past few months.
Really, in making their first regional appearance in their fourth year of existence, it marks their progress covering the last several seasons.
"It's one of those history-making things," Anclote head coach Jason Szymanski said. "It's been a long four years to finally get here, but a great four years because what program can say they've done this in four years?
"The kids have worked so hard for it. This is the first class to start as freshmen and will graduate as a senior class. I think that pushed them to be more successful."
Szymanski is the only headman in program history, arriving from nearby Paul R. Smith Middle School where he initially coached some of his current players.
Senior guard Luis Perez is the Sharks' first four-year varsity player, and three others – Spencer Guerette, Chris Palamidis and Dylan Walsh – have spent four years in the program.
"It's bittersweet," Szymanski said. "I know that once our ride is over, it's going to be emotional. I've known these kids since middle school because that's where I was prior.
"Losing this senior class is tough, but we're also a program with three juniors who are starters. Those three will be our next nucleus to carry us into next year."
Balance would perfectly describe the Sharks from a statistical standpoint. Junior Ty Carter leads the team averaging only 10.3 points per game; yet four others average more than eight points.
Carter also averages team highs of 8.6 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 2.2 steals.
His brother, junior Shy Carter, averages 9.7 points, 5.4 boards and 2.1 steals. Palamidis chips in 10.1 points per contest, and junior guard Drew Driscoll adds 9.1 points, 4.4 assists and 1.3 steals.
Driscoll did not play in the second Nature Coast game, and the team was impacted in the first clash by the football team's advancement into the playoffs.
"We didn't have a lot of practice time with everyone. We didn't have any team chemistry yet," Szymanski said. "I don't think everybody was truly focused at the beginning of the season.
"As time went on, you could see the type of team we were turning into, and how the kids were playing with each other."
When Nature Coast visited Anclote last month, it built a 35-13 lead by halftime. However, Anclote rallied in the second half to make it close down the stretch.
"I told them after the game, 'What a difference, and you guys see as long as you play all four quarters, you never know what can happen,'" Szymanski said.
"There's going to be an advantage to playing them for a third time and knowing we can at least hang with them. I think that gives our team a confidence boost and let's us know we have a chance."
These Sharks also know they can beat a team after losing to it twice. That's exactly what they did to Hudson in the 5A-8 semifinals to clinch this regional berth.
Even though Anclote went on to lose in the district final to Wesley Chapel, 65-46, on Saturday night, the momentum remains.
"They're definitely a team that's playing well," Pisarcik said. "They've got some athletes in Ty and Shy Carter. They've got guards who can hit open shots and create a little bit. They were in the district championship game for a reason.
"I think we match up well with them. We have a little bit of a size advantage, but they have a little more athleticism. I definitely think going into this game, our guys are ready to play.
"We're not overlooking anyone. In the playoffs, it's one game. We've got to make sure we play as hard as we can and execute our game plan, and hopefully we come out with a win."