Sharks Use 26-7 Run to Bounce Bears
In front of a deafening Bear’s Den Tuesday night, Nature Coast got revenge for their lone loss as they beat the Central Bears 70-48 to advance to the Elite Eight of the state playoffs.
With both squads coming off regional quarterfinal wins, it was standing room only even before the opening tip, as the District Champion Bears hosted a county rival in the Sweet Sixteen.
In what was dubbed a ‘Gnormous’ (apparently a mix between Enormous and Ginormous) contest for the county on social media, both sides delivered for three quarters in a showdown that made history as Hernando County had two teams square off in the Regional Semifinal.
Central (20-10) jumped out early behind Andrew Krienes (14 points, 12 rebounds) as the big man made plays in the paint.
Caleb Johnson, who scored 30 points in the win over Ridgewood, hit a three with 5:43 remaining in the second quarter to extend a Bear’s lead to 25-17, sending the home fans into a frenzy.
However, led by Robert McAfee, Nature Coast (27-1) would end the half on a 13-4 run to take a 30-29 lead into intermission.
McAfee, who had been averaging nine points per contest, had 14 at halftime and had almost completely taken Johnson (6 points) out of the game plan for Central.
“McAfee all year has drawn the best player on the other team.” Nature Coast coach Dave Pisarcik said. “He does a good job, he’s a smart defender, we know how good Caleb can be throughout the season and I felt that if he limited him, we would give ourselves a better chance to win.”
With the teams trading blows throughout the third quarter, it would be the play of Kaine McColley (21 points) that pushed the Sharks across the finish line.
“I needed to be more aggressive.” McColley said. “Coach told me my defender was smaller than me so I had to go out and attack.”
Up 44-41 with 1:36 left in the third quarter, McColley would outscore Central by himself across a 26-7 run and put the Sharks safely into the Elite Eight with a slam dunk to cap off the scoring.
“This was bigger than a district or regular season game.” Pisarcik said. “Our guys fed off that energy and it showed.”
Nature Coast now heads to Palatka, who won on a buzzer-beater, to play Friday at 7 p.m. The winner will advance to Lakeland, home of the State Championships.
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