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Boys Basketball

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Published:   |   Updated: March 7, 2013 at 04:19 PM

Nature Coast head coach Dave Pisarcik and his counterpart Mike Bowe don't figure to spend much time scouting their next opponent this weekend.

If the Sharks and Panthers haven't figured each other out by now, they never will.

Tuesday night's Class 5A, Region II semifinal, hosted by Nature Coast at 7 p.m., will mark the fourth meeting of the season between these two teams.

"We know each other better than we know our own teams," Bowe said. "There are no big secrets. On Tuesday it'll just be who makes the fewest mistakes and who shoots the ball well."

On the surface, this one seems academic. Each of the first three meetings, including the 5A-District 7 final nine days ago, ended the same way, with Nature Coast (24-3) on the winning end.

But the Sharks aren't exactly making plans for Saturday's 5A-II final, and their fourth straight trip to the Elite Eight, just yet.

"Eustis is tough, one of the best teams in our region," Pisarcik said. "They just happen to be in the same district as us. It shows how tough of a district it is. That's a good team. They're ready for us and we'll be ready for them."

A closer examination of Nature Coast's three clashes with Eustis (18-10) is more telling than the Sharks' 3-0 mark in the series.

Yes, Nature Coast looked fairly dominant in a Dec. 7 contest on its home floor, winning a 46-24 slugfest in which the Panthers were shut out completely in the second quarter.

However, Eustis was without its best outside shooter, junior forward Jaylon Graham, out with a sprained ankle. He did play when these squads faced the next two times, both in Lake County.

On Jan. 15, the Sharks squeaked out a 38-36 triumph to sweep the regular-season set.

Then came the district championship tilt, a rematch of last year's 5A-7 final also won by Nature Coast.

The Panthers burst out of the gate on a 7-0 run. The Sharks responded with a 22-3 surge, largely behind the hot shooting hand of guard Carlos Clemente.

Nature Coast held a 43-31 advantage heading into the fourth quarter, but couldn't stay in front and had to survive Eustis' final possession just to force overtime.

In the extra period, the Sharks trailed most of the way. Yet holding a 56-54 lead with 17.7 seconds left, the Panthers missed on 3-of-4 free throws that could have iced it.

Senior point guard Vic Davila hit a deep 3-pointer with just over four seconds remaining, and Wyatt Hessler stole the ensuing inbounds pass and knocked down 1-of-2 from the charity stripe to seal a 58-56 victory.

"Both (the last two) games could have went either way," Bowe said. "This one counts for real. I'd rather lose 20 straight and win this one than win them all and lose this one.

"We're feeling good about coming into Nature Coast. It's always a great game. Coach Pisarcik is a friend of mine. We have great respect for each other."

Eustis rebounded from the district final loss to dispose of 5A-8 champ Wesley Chapel on the road Thursday night, 53-51.

"It doesn't matter if you're first or second (in the district) going into the state playoffs," Bowe said. "You have to play these teams sometime; it's just a matter of if you're home or away. I think we play better on the road. There's less variables to worry about.

"Our record is probably a little misleading. I think (a tough schedule) prepared us for this. Wesley Chapel had a great team. They had probably one of the best kids (Erik Thomas) we've played all year. But we did a good job of shutting their other kids down."

Conversely in the 5A-7 Tournament, Eustis made Nature Coast's leading scorer Rohan Blackwood a nonfactor (five points), but yielded eight 3-pointers, five by Clemente (21 points) and three by Davila (11 points), and was plagued by turnovers.

Anthony Allen led the Panthers with 19 points and Antwon Clayton added 11 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and three steals.

Those two and guard Dustin Dunham are three-year starters who have endured two straight years of falling in the regional quarterfinals, not to mention a 1-5 mark against the Sharks the past couple of seasons.

"We finally got the monkey off our back," Bowe said of Thursday's win. "We've got three kids who have been there, done that. We'd love to get to the Elite Eight. But we can't think about that yet. We've got to beat Nature Coast.

"If they beat us a fourth time, we'll shake their hands. They'd be more than deserving to go on."

The Sharks have their own added motivation to reach Saturday's final. Graduating four key seniors last year, including current UMass center Tyler Bergantino, the battle cry all season has been proving the program can carry on.

Though winning on Tuesday wouldn't match the Sharks' Final Four appearance in 2012, it would put them a step away from what may have been seen as an improbable regional title defense.

When they decimated Anclote on Thursday, 89-47, and set a new school record for single-game scoring in the process, it certainly spoke volumes.

"I think we've proven a lot this year," Pisarcik said. "Going undefeated in the county, being district champs on the road. Our record speaks for itself. We've proved we can play with the best teams. But to get back to the Elite Eight, that'd be a huge statement for these seniors."

"We keep persevering and proving people wrong," Davila said. "We're on a roll, and we're not stopping yet."


cbernhardt@hernandotoday.com (352) 544-5288

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