BROOKSVILLE — For the fourth time in school history, Nature Coast will be returning to the Class 2A region finals after sweeping Gulf on Wednesday afternoon.
In the first meeting between the programs since last year, the Sharks won all seven matches. Nature Coast last won a region title in 2011.
“It’s hard to know what to expect when you’re facing a team for the first time,” Nature Coast coach Tom Brown said. “It was all about staying focused as we close in on our goal.”
All seven matches were won in straight sets as Jesse DeWitt (14-3), Conner Schwefringhaus (12-3), Dakota Willey (13-4), Alec Lund (11-3) and Charles Buckner (9-2) had no struggles in singles.
The match could have been called at that point, but Gulf stayed for doubles. Schwefringhaus and DeWitt won 6-0, 6-1 over the Bucs’ No. 1 tandem of Alex Walker and Aakash Punjabi. Jerry Bianculli and Nick Pais also dispatched Gulf’s No. 2 pair of Robin Michaelson and Lasia Lo, 6-2, 6-2.
Nature Coast has reached regionals six straight seasons, but was eliminated each of the past two seasons 7-0 by Gainesville Eastside. The experience is something Brown sees as a positive for this group heading into today’s final with Pasco.
“Because they’ve been around, I have to say less to them as we get into these big matches,” Brown said. “They know how important everything is at this point.”
Pirates, Leopards take out host Falcons
HUDSON — At Fivay, the Pasco boys and Hernando girls teams were victorious to set up today’s rematches with their district vanquishers.
Pasco’s boys fared well considering the loss of No. 1 Joshua Morris, disqualified for his use of profanity at the end of a district defeat to Nature Coast. Sliding up from the No. 2 spot Alex Mitchell rolled Derek Balazy 6-1, 6-3 and new No. 2 Christian Yann made it 2-0 with a 6-1, 6-2 victory.
A big point came from No. 3 Mark Ray, 6-4, 6-2 against Luke Theede in Ray’s first action since spraining his ankle two weeks ago while playing basketball during a mission for his church.
“He was on a mission to make me real nervous,” joked Pasco coach Mickey Wilkes. Ray said he had no issues with the ankle.
Fivay No. 4 Chris Mancini won 6-3, 7-6, but by then Pasco had clinched victory with No. 5 Will Waselewski prevailing. The squads played out doubles, Pasco taking both for a 6-1 final.
Nature Coast won the regular-season meeting with Pasco 4-3 with several matches going the distance.
For the girls, Hernando coach Connie Foster said the Leopards are “really excited” to play Pasco, which topped them 5-2 during the season and won a tight district meet.
Wins from No. 1 Grace Curren, No. 2 Jada Bergstrom — a pivotal 6-4, 6-7, 6-2 result over Amber Mariano — and No. 5 Amber Haisley had the Leopards just needing to split doubles to advance. The No. 2 team of Lida-Marie Steinkamp and Shelby Smith shook off their singles losses (to Ashleigh Day and Breanna Tonello, respectively) to prevail 6-1, 6-4.
After a power nap Curren teamed with Bergstrom to top Fivay 6-0, 6-3 in doubles.
Fivay coach Erica Goodell was proud of the score, a marked improvement from a 7-0 defeat when the teams were in the same district last year.
“Just the fact we put up a fight, and won a couple of matches against them, was a major accomplishment,” she said.
Darek Sharp, Times correspondent