Saturday, Nov 22, 2014
Sports

NCT, HCA set for regional action

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For the second time in three seasons, both Nature Coast and Hernando Christian Academy are involved in regional quarterfinal action on Thursday.

They may be separated by three classifications and differing expectations, but they won't be far in terms of geography.

The Lady Sharks (19-4) travel to New Port Richey to take on Gulf (21-3) in a Class 5A, Region II quarterfinal.

In nearby Land O' Lakes, the Lady Lions (10-15) face former district foe Academy at the Lakes (19-5) in a 2A-II quarterfinal.

Both games start at 7 p.m.

Nature Coast comes in smarting from a 67-65 loss to Pasco in Friday's 5A-District 7 Tournament final.

Though the Lady Sharks were the top seed, they lost for the second time this season in Lady Pirates' gym, just missing on a pair of buzzer-beating layup attempts.

Even with the defeat, Nature Coast's chances of advancing aren't completely diminished; far from it.

On paper, a 5A-II crown appears reasonably obtainable for several teams, the Lady Sharks included.

Getting by Gulf, the 5A-8 champion, would mean facing the winner between Pasco and 5A-8 runner-up Land O' Lakes.

Looking further down the road, Citrus looms as a potential opponent in the regional final.

Nature Coast has faced both Pasco and Citrus twice, dropping 2-of-3 to each team with the wins coming at home.

The Lady Sharks went 10-0 on their own floor, but likely won't play there again unless they see another district runner-up - and the brackets line up correctly.

So the task of navigating through the region has certainly become more daunting. A first-round exit could be just as likely as winning the entire region.

"It's not something we talk a whole lot about. We want to go game by game, we don't want to look too far ahead," Nature Coast head coach Emily Gore said. "But on the team calendar I handed out, I wrote all the way up to the Final Four."

Nature Coast hasn't crossed paths with the Lady Buccaneers in two seasons, despite neither team playing many games this season outside the area.

Gulf does have the stronger postseason history on its side, having gone to at least the Sweet 16 each of the past four years, and six times since 2005.

Conversely, the Lady Sharks haven't won a regional contest since 2009.

"I feel like it's Gulf's region to lose in a way," Gore said. "They've been consistent in making the playoffs and they've had a strong season.

"I definitely think it's a very winnable region for any team in it if they play well."

Much of what the Lady Bucs can do revolves around senior forward Kayla Kivinski, though Gore noted that their entire starting lineup features capable scorers.

In that way they are similar to the Lady Sharks, who center around 6-foot junior Rita Jarque, averaging 18.1 points, 16.3 rebounds, 3.1 steals and 1.0 blocks.

She is surrounded by four skilled guards, Fatima Jones (12.3 points, 3.2 assists, 3.8 steals), Mirandas Jones (12.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.5 steals, 2.4 assists), Emmalee Harris (7.4 points, 4.0, rebounds, 1.2 steals) and Latavea Sesler (6.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.5 steals).

"I think we definitely have an advantage with Rita on the floor," Gore said. "I think most coaches would tell you it's difficult to match up with Rita.

"I think overall we have a little more team speed than them. But we have to take care of the basketball and reduce our turnovers. That hurt us against Pasco.

"We have to play good defense against them. I think we also have to do a better job rebounding. That's something against Pasco where we had a huge letdown. That really hurt us."

? ? ?

HCA knows Academy at the Lakes all too well - and for that reason, head coach Mike Drummond is being realistic.

"We've got nothing to lose," Drummond said. "We're probably not even expected to come close to winning, so I told the girls that we're just going to enjoy the moment.

"We've exceeded our expectations this year. Realistically we never thought we had a shot of going to the state playoffs with the district we're in.

"The fact that we've more than doubled our win total from last year (four), we're pretty happy with where we are."

Over these last three seasons, Academy at the Lakes head coach Karim Nohra has duplicated the success he had previously at Wesley Chapel High.

The Lady Wildcats, the 2A-7 champs, are one of the top programs in their classification, having gone to the state semifinals in 2012 and finishing as state runner-up in 2013.

They've run into the same roadblock in each of those state finals, two-time defending state champion Tallahassee-Florida A&M University Developmental Research School.

In the previous two seasons, both HCA and Academy at the Lakes were part of 2A-8. During that span they faced five times, with the Lady 'Cats taking them all by a combined 392-63.

Drummond admits that putting up points will be an especially difficult challenge given the Lady Lions' typical offensive shortcomings.

It has been the defense that has allowed HCA to make it to this point, earning 2A-8 runner-up status thanks to last Thursday's 38-37 district semifinal win over Tampa-Bayshore Christian.

Two sisters, sophomore Mary Jackson (7.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 6.5 steals) and seventh-grader Milly Jackson (6.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, 4.3 steals) have been key.

For a young team making just the third regional appearance in program history, though, anything from here is icing on the cake.

"To even have a chance we need to play a perfect game and hope they have an off night," Drummond said. "We're going to go down there with reckless abandon, play as hard as we can, set realistic goals and enjoy the moment."

cbernhardt@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5288

At a Glance

What - Class 5A, Region II quarterfinal

Who - Nature Coast Lady Sharks (19-4, 5A-7 runners-up) at Gulf Lady Buccaneers (21-3, 5A-8 champions)

Where - Gulf High, 5355 School Road, New Port Richey

When - Thursday at 7 p.m.

At Stake - Winner will meet Land O' Lakes/Pasco winner in next Tuesday's 5A-II semifinals.

What - Class 2A, Region II quarterfinal

Who - Hernando Christian Academy Lady Lions (10-15, 2A-8 runners-up) at Academy at the Lakes Lady Wildcats (19-5, 2A-7 champions)

Where - Academy at the Lakes, 2331 Collier Pkwy., Land O' Lakes

When - Thursday at 7 p.m.

At Stake - Winner will meet Tampa-Cambridge Christian/St. Petersburg-Keswick Christian winner in next Tuesday's 2A-II semifinals.

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