Central, Nature Coast Advance For Sweet Sixteen Matchup
For the first time in county history two area teams will square off in the Sweet Sixteen round of the state playoffs as Central and Nature Coast both won on Thursday.
Central 20 Years in Waiting
Central used a 12-0 run late in the fourth to come from behind to knock off Ridgewood 78-74 Thursday in a 6A Regional semifinal.
In front of a crowd that was at a fever pitch most of the night, the Bears (21-9) rode the hot hand on Caleb Johnson who poured in 30 points, in their first regional home game since 1997.
“It didn’t mean anything to me unless I got the win tonight,” Johnson said. “That’s what I wanted, to win with my teammates, go to the Sweet 16 and have a good battle against Nature Coast.”
With both teams missing key starters, the question would be who would step up, and the answer was a name Central fans know well.
Without point guard Kaylyl Headen (Illness), the Bear’s inserted De’Vonta Smith into the game, who’s athletic ability on the football field translated to the hardwood where he had five blocks.
None would be bigger than this play though.
Up 72-70 with 2:00 remaining the Bears were already on a 9-0, Smith leapt from behind to block a shot, and on an outlet pass Central found Brian Eck for a three point play to give them a 75-70 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Ridgewood, despite missing their leading scorer, junior guard Ty Quiroz (ankle) seemed ready for the Bear’s frantic pace.
After combining for 91 points in the first half (Central 46, Ridgewood 45) the pace slowed a bit, as the Rams looked to get into half court sets.
Darin Bright scored 20 points to go along with five rebounds as the Rams (18-11) built a late fourth quarter lead of 70-63 with just over three minutes left to play.
However, for the Rams it wouldn’t be enough as Central closed the game on 15-4 run.
Nature Coast Holds off Zephyrhills
Nature Coast rebounded from their first loss of the season to knock off Zephyrhills 53-48 on Thursday.
After being upended by Central in the district title game last week and suffering their first loss, Coach Dave Pisarcik wanted to see his team bounce back.
The Sharks (25-1) went into The Dawg Pound and immediately raced out to a 20-9 lead at the end of the first quarter over the host Bulldogs.
Despite Kaine McColley’s 18 points, the Sharks would still be in for a battle as Zephyrhills (17-10) cut the Nature Coast lead to 42-39 by the end of the third.
In a low scoring fourth quarter, Austin Rivera hit a huge basket to give the Sharks some breathing room at 44-39.
The Bulldogs would get no closer, as Kaine McColley hit free throws down the stretch to ice the game at 53-48.
With both county teams winning the game will be hosted at the Bear’s Den on Tuesday night. The winner will advance to the Elite Eight.