Monday, Sep 01, 2014
Nature Coast

NCT faces long-standing hurdle

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The early history of Nature Coast girls basketball produced plenty of memorable accomplishments.

In each of their first six seasons, the Lady Sharks advanced to regionals. Four times, they reached the Sweet 16.

Yet, somehow a trip to the Elite Eight constantly eluded Nature Coast.

There's a chance for this season's Lady Sharks (20-4) to fix that Tuesday night, when they travel to Land O' Lakes (22-4) for a Class 5A, Region II semifinal at 7 p.m.

The winner moves on to Saturday's regional finals, against either Citrus or Gainesville-Eastside.

"I think it'd be pretty special," Nature Coast head coach Emily Gore said. "It's never easy to win. And it's never easy to win especially in the playoffs.

"I know the girls are hungry for that, they're excited for that. It would be a fantastic feeling for us as a program."

In defense of those previous Lady Shark squads that fell short, three times they had the misfortune of running into powerhouse Orlando-Bishop Moore Catholic in the Sweet 16.

Since those early days, the FHSAA has reconfigured its regional brackets, and now Nature Coast finds itself in a far more winnable scenario.

Not that Land O' Lakes is a pushover. Consider that the Lady Gators have beaten Pasco twice, while the Lady Sharks dropped 2-of-3, including the 5A-District 7 championship game, to the Lady Pirates.

Conversely, Land O' Lakes lost three times to Gulf, the same team Nature Coast just defeated in Thursday's quarterfinals, 58-55.

Since these two teams have yet to cross paths this season, Gore's scouting is limited to stats posted online and game film.

"We know they're a very well-coached team," Gore said. "Obviously they had a very big win against Pasco, kind of like us (against Gulf). It should be a very fun game."

The Lady Gators are paced by Jhade Hayes, a junior power forward who averaged 14.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.4 steals in the regular season.

Sophomore point Makala Canada averaged 10.2 points, 2.4 assists and 3.2 steals in regular-season action.

Land O' Lakes, the 5A-8 runner-up, reached this point with a thrilling comeback over Pasco on Thursday, trailing throughout the game until closing the fourth quarter on a 15-3 run to pull out a 39-34 victory.

"They've got a big kid inside, kind of like we do," Gore said. "We feel like going in pretty much every game we have the advantage with guard play. We feel we really have four strong guards and then Rita (Jarque) in the middle.

"Obviously they've had a very successful season to be in the Sweet 16. We need to make sure we do all the little things that have helped us win all season."

Nature Coast received contributions from its entire starting lineup against Gulf, paced by Jarque's typical double-double, 16 points and 18 rebounds.

Again the Lady Sharks will have to find a way to win on the road, but they should have some confidence built up after bouncing the Lady 'Bucs on their floor.

"It's kind of a different feel coming off a big win," Gore said "We won at Gulf, a fantastic team. So we feel really good. I kind of hope we don't get that settled-in feeling after a big win where we think we can just show up and get a win. We have to stay hungry."

cbernhardt@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5288

At a Glance

What - Class 5A, Region II semifinal

Who - Nature Coast Lady Sharks (20-4, 5A-7 runners-up) at Land O' Lakes Lady Gators (20-4, 5A-8 runners-up)

Where - Land O' Lakes High, 20325 Gator Lane, Land O' Lakes

When - Tuesday at 7 p.m.

At Stake - Winner will play at Citrus/Gainesville-Eastside winner in Saturday's 5A-II final.

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