Nature Coast, Crystal River to meet in District Championship
By: Danny Aiello Jr.
Crystal River 67, Central 62
Despite a stellar campaign, Central will have to wait another year to end their postseason drought. The Bears were dropped in double overtime Wednesday by the Crystal River Pirates 67-62.
Seeking their first taste of regional basketball since 2004, Central (17-10) couldn’t hang on to a double-digit lead late in the fourth quarter as the Pirates (17-10) rallied to advance to Friday’s 5A-7 District Championship.
Having split the first two meetings with each team winning on the road, Central came out early and often led by Brandyn Smith, who finished with 19 points and four assists.
Trailing at the half 26-24 Crystal River battled back, led by Tyrek Scriven, who had 19 points and 10 rebounds. However, an 8-2 run to close out the third quarter would see the Bears head into the fourth quarter with a 42-35 lead.
The game was just getting started in the fourth quarter, as the Pirates rallied to tie the game at 52 with 1:10 seconds left.
With both teams failing at a last second shot, the game would go to overtime.
Trading baskets in overtime, Central’s buzzer beater attempt fell short and the first district semifinal headed to a double overtime period.
Crystal River jumped in front 64-62 in the second overtime, but the Bears had a chance to tie the game with 48 seconds left and Axel Wisniewski-Mendoza at the line.
The forward missed both free throws, however, Central would have a second chance to tie the game with 12 seconds left.
Pirates’ junior Josh Cole stole the ball from Brian Eck and converted the layup while being fouled.
Caleb Johnson finished with 15 points, two rebounds and an assist for Central, while Keshon Hopkins has eight points and 16 boards for the Pirates.
Crystal River advances to the district championship Friday vs Nature Coast, and the Pirates secured their first regional berth since 1994.
Nature Coast 52, Hernando 38
On paper, the 7-time defending district champion Nature Coast Sharks should have had their way with the 18-loss Hernando Leopards.
However, the Leopards pushed the Sharks (20-6) to the limit and for periods outplayed the Sharks before falling 52-38 Wednesday, in the late 5A-7 District Semifinal.
Dustin Bailey came out scoring for the Leopards (8-19), pacing the Leopards to an 11-10 lead at the end of the first quarter, as team leader Joel Wilson struggled with early foul trouble.
“Bailey had a huge game.” Nature Coast coach David Pisarcik said. “We knew he has been playing well, look at what he did to Citrus, he stepped up.”
Finishing with 13 points, seven rebounds and two blocks, the senior helped Hernando enter the half tied with Nature Coast at 25.
“When you look at our past two games that we played (Hernando), you knew it was going down to the wire.” Pisarcik said. “Give credit to Hernando. They played us tough all year. We knew going into this game it would have a district title-type feel to this game.”
The Leopards came out of the break feeding off a packed house, weathering the Sharks storm when Wilson went out with his fourth foul with just under five minutes left in the third quarter.
Trailing 33-32 in the final two minutes of the quarter, Kaine McColley (20 points, 3 rebounds) took over for Nature Coast, hitting three straight three pointers, en route to a 42-32 Sharks lead after three.
“We needed him to play like this, in this type of game. I’m proud of how he played.” Pisarcik said. “I think Kaine has never been in this kind of game, when the stands are packed and every possession, every choice you make could cost you the game.”
The Sharks’ headman praised the 6’5” junior, saying that his shots down the stretch of the third quarter helped calm the team.
Donta Manuel (9 points, 2 rebounds) and Wilson (10 points, 1 rebound) would help shave the lead to 44-38 in the fourth quarter before Wilson would foul out.
“Rivalry games, games like this are a challenge. Joel is probably one of the better players we’ve seen in Hernando County.” Pisarcik said. “He’s had one heck of a career. We knew he would be the main factor. We tried to take him away and a little bit of foul trouble helped us.”
Wilson picked up his fifth foul (third offensive) with 4:44 left in the game, and at the time of his foul, 10 team fouls had been called against the Leopards, with five belonging to Wilson.
However, Wilson fouling out took the Sharks out of their game-plan and left them in a “what now?” mode, according to Pisarcik.
“We prepared for Joel the last three days, pretty much all year, we prepared for this game.” Pisarcik said. “When he fouled out, we kind of went ‘okay what do we do now?’ and went back to our offense.”
Nick Crima finished with 15 points and three rebounds, but it was Robert McAfee who hit the dagger to end the comeback bid by Hernando.
Leading 44-38, McAfee took a pass in the short left wing and calmly buried a three ball, extending the lead to 47-38.
Nature Coast looks to capture their 5th straight district crown Friday against Crystal River.