Central Downs Nature Coast, Claims District Crown
Central came alive late to do something no team has done this season, beat the Nature Coast Sharks.
The 67-59 win Friday snapped a 17-game losing streak to the Sharks and allowed the Bears to capture the 6A-7 District Championship, ensuring them a home regional game next week against Ridgewood.
The first district crown since 1997 for Central came on a night where the Bears handed the Sharks (25-1) their first loss of the season.
Central (20-9) trailed 16-13 after the half but strong play and shooting by Brian Eck (10 points) allowed the Bears to take a 27-26 lead into the half.
Searching for their first win since 2009 against the Sharks, Central appeared to have let the game slip away as Nature Coast used a 12-1 run late in the third, paced by Jordan Baxter (17 points, 17 rebounds) to gain a 45-38 advantage.
The Bears, however, echoed coach Matt Zandecki’s statement of not being intimidated by the five-time defending champions, as Sam Gardner got fouled and completed a three-point play letting Central use a 6-0 run to enter the fourth down 45-44.
The Bears would outscore Nature Coast 23-14 in the final period of play, cementing their second district title in school history.
Caleb Johnson scored on consecutive possessions in the fourth as Central started the fourth quarter on a 6-0 run, giving them 12 straight points to turn a 45-38 deficit into a 50-45 lead.
Prior to the defeat, Nature Coast had been 62-1 against Hernando County squads dating back to 2009. Their last loss was in the 2013-14 season, against Hernando.
On Thursday, Nature Coast will travel to Zephyhills, while Central hosts Ridgewood in regional play. Both games are set to tip off at 7 p.m.