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BROOKSVILLE — With trips to the region final under its belt each of the past three seasons, Nature Coast looks primed for a similar run this year after Thursday’s convincing Class 5A region quarterfinal victory.
Despite falling behind in the first quarter, Nature Coast upended Anclote 89-47.
Momentum turned when Nature Coast forward Rohan Blackwood, coming off the bench after being assessed two technical fouls in the district title game, came in with three minutes left in the first quarter.
Carlos Clemente carried Nature Coast (24-3) offensively in the opening quarter, shooting 3-for-4 from 3-point range. He finished with 19, including five 3s, deferring to Blackwood and the low-post game later in the contest.
“Rohan is a great player,” Nature Coast coach Dave Pisarcik said. “When he’s going, he’s tough to stop, and he was definitely on (Thursday night). Once he got in, I felt like that’s what got us going.”
Blackwood had his most complete effort of the season, scoring a game-high 20 to go with eight boards, a career-high six assists, two steals and a block. His cooperative play with fellow forwards Yamil Marrero (seven points, eight rebounds, five assists, four blocks) and Sam Mazzia (12 points, seven rebounds) put Anclote (16-11) in a difficult position defensively.
“Once I knew I wasn’t starting, I realized that I was going to have to come in and take over the game,” Blackwood said. “We were down a little bit, so I did everything I could to get my teammates going. Yamil and I are like a one-two punch, and when I’m not going, he’s doing it.”
The Carter brothers carried the scoring load for the visitors, but despite 13 from Tymere and 15 from Shymere, the duo was in foul trouble most of the game and spent a great deal of time on the bench. Dylan Walsh did everything he could to keep Anclote alive, but his eight points, four boards, six assists, two steals and three blocks were not enough.
The options for Nature Coast were too much to handle. Point guard Vic Davila had only one point at the half, but when outside defenders began to key in on Clemente, Davila stepped up from the perimeter. He finished with 12 points with three 3s and a game-high seven assists.
Nature Coast gets a district final rematch with Eustis on Tuesday. The Sharks have won 46 of their past 48 home games dating to 2009.
“This is our atmosphere and our home,” Blackwood said. “Everyone should play their best at home. We have to play good and win.”
7A: Wiregrass wilts vs. bigger foe
ST. PETERSBURG — For the first eight minutes of Thursday’s Class 7A region quarterfinal, it looked as if Wiregrass Ranch’s undersized shooters were going to be able to hang with St. Petersburg. The Bulls trailed by three and knocked down four 3-pointers.
But in the second quarter the Green Devils got down to business.
Utilizing its size advantage, St. Petersburg wore out Wiregrass Ranch in the paint and built a 20-point lead by halftime in an eventual 77-48 win.
“Foul trouble hurt us, rebounding hurt us,” Wiregrass Ranch coach Jeremy Calzone said. “They were doing a great job of crashing the boards and we didn’t respond to their energy. That’s what killed us, those second-chance points.”
Larrentz Manora led the Bulls with 23 points, including five 3-pointers.
“We wanted to set the tempo and we wanted to utilize our size,” St. Petersburg coach Chris Blackwell said. “At first we were kind of feeling each other out, trading baskets. But we finally went to our bread and butter down on the post.
“We got baskets and we got them in foul trouble. That made them use their bench and we didn’t think their bench was too deep.”
The first quarter was played at a breakneck pace and St. Petersburg led 24-21. Then the Green Devils (19-7) started getting easy baskets underneath. Ben Clare started the second quarter with two straight layups. Demontrae Adams hit two 3-pointers and in a 9-0 run to end the half, Dayon Griffin had a layup and dunk.
Griffin finished with 23 points, including 12 from the free-throw line. The Green Devils shot 30 free throws and made 19. Wiregrass Ranch (20-8) was outscored 21-4 in the second quarter.
“We adjusted to their press,” Griffin said. “They were playing a fast-paced game and we like to play fast. We realized we could go down low on them. They aren’t that tall so we were able to use that.”
The Green Devils did not lay off the gas in the third quarter. They scored the first six points and led 63-39 after three quarters. By midway through the fourth quarter, both teams emptied their benches.
Clare had 13 points and Terrell Burney had 11 for St. Petersburg.
6A: Prepared Mustangs moving on
TRINITY — This playoff experience against a Polk County team went much better than the first couple.
Mitchell, which lost 71-29 last year to Winter Haven, earned the first postseason win in school history by holding off Kathleen 61-55. Mitchell advances to the 6A region semifinals and will host that Winter Haven team.
Lawrence Watt scored 18 to lead Mitchell (21-7) while Bernie Conley had 14, all in the first half as his team took a double-digit lead.
“Last year we learned about the speed and quickness of Polk County,” said Mitchell coach Jared St. Charles. “So we played a tougher schedule and were a lot more prepared. The guys knew this time — Polk County team, we’d better pay a lot more attention to detail.”
Specifically it was showing enough poise and patience on offense combined with some key stops late that did it for the Mustangs. Kathleen had sliced a 17-point lead to 52-50 with 5:30 remaining.
Watt answered with a score but then Kevin Wilson, who keyed Kathleen’s comeback with 20 points, hit a jumper and the Red Devils (18-11) had the ball with a chance to tie. But Mitchell forced a turnover and on the other end Zach Rapaport’s follow dunk made it 56-52 with 3:20 left.
Kathleen made just one of its last seven shots, two of them blocked by Rapaport. And Ryan Doherty’s ill-advised 15-footer — until it went in — put the margin at six with a minute left.
“That’s a shot you don’t want anyone taking, but of course I’m not arguing about it now,” said St. Charles. “I was just happy we got out to such a big lead because I knew they would make a run. Our guys kept it together.”
Mitchell had been 0-4 in playoff games including a blowout loss to another Polk team, Haines City. But this deep Mustangs team all came together in a stretch spanning halftime. Mitchell went from trailing 19-17 to being up 43-26 at the 5:35 mark of the third quarter. It included a 7-for-8 stretch from the floor.
Kathleen helped out by missing 9-of-13 free-throw attempts during the run. But the Red Devils would quickly get back in the game with two Wilson bank shots, one part of a three-point play, and a 3 by Alsean Evans during a 15-4 run.
“Once we got the lead, we knew we weren’t going to give it up,” said Watt. “We took care of the ball, got some good shots but were still attacking.”
Mitchell hit on 50 percent of its shots in the second half. After allowing Kathleen 24 shots in the first period — thanks to 11 offensive rebounds — Mitchell ended the game with one more attempt from the floor than the visitors.
Conley had 10 rebounds. T.J. Cortright added eight points and five boards. Sean Thompson and Rapaport scored six apiece.
6A: Land O'Lakes shut down early
WINTER HAVEN — Land O’Lakes scored the first two points in the Class 6A region quarterfinals.
Winter Haven, however, scored the next 27 and went on to a 64-34 win.
After Mike Obi’s shot gave Land O’Lakes its early 2-0 lead a minute into the game, Winter Haven turned up its halfcourt trapping defense and turned steals into easy baskets. The Blue Devils, who finished with 21 steals, had eight in the first quarter that led to 12 of their 18 points and an 18-2 lead after one quarter.
The Blue Devils (19-10) scored the first nine points of the second quarter to build their lead to 27-2. And that was pretty much the ball game.
“They turned the pressure up a little bit and our young backcourt couldn’t handle it,” Gators coach David Puhalski said. “They just outplayed us. Their defense was just smothering. That’s the whole story of the game.”
The Blue Devils’ defense sparked their offense.
“They turned their backs so every time they did, we double-teamed them and tried to get the steals,” said forward Kendrick Holland, who led the team with six steals. “Getting steals leads to easy layups.”
Brandon Dorsey led Land O’Lakes (11-13) with nine points.
5A: Wildcats falter late vs. Eustis
WESLEY CHAPEL — Unable to hang on to a nine-point lead heading into the final quarter, Wesley Chapel blew an opportunity for its first playoff win since 2004, losing 53-51 to Eustis.
The Wildcats (24-5) led 39-30 before being outscored by the Panthers 23-12 in the final quarter, leaving coach Doug Greseth and his players frustrated at the conclusion of a bittersweet season. Wesley Chapel won its first district title after being a district runnerup twice, claimed back-to-back Sunshine Athletic Conference championships and had two straight 24-win seasons.
“We didn’t make plays at the end of the game,” Greseth said. “We’re not very happy about what happened tonight. We just lost our composure a little bit in the fourth quarter.”
In the final game of his stellar career, Wesley Chapel’s all-time scoring leader Erik Thomas had a game-high 25 points. He converted two free throws to give the Wildcats a 48-47 lead with 39 seconds left, but Eustis’ Dustin Dunham countered with a fastbreak layup and the Panthers never trailed again.
Brian Rodriguez, who wound up with 10 points, hit an uncontested 3-point shot as time expired. Carson Emery added nine points for the Wildcats.
The Panthers were led by Anthony Allen, who scored 19. Dunham added 16.
A steal and a dunk by Thomas gave Wesley Chapel a 35-30 lead in the third quarter before Eustis took over. Thomas had 11 of his points in that frame.
2A, Lake Wales Vanguard 62, Academy at the Lakes 47: The Wildcats fell behind by 15 through two quarters and couldn’t close the gap in a road loss in Thursday’s Class 2A region quarterfinals.
“We really did everything we wanted to,” AATL coach Tom Haslam said. “We just couldn’t make anything.”
AATL (14-13) didn’t have an answer for Vanguard’s frontcourt, which featured three players at least 6 foot 7. The Wildcats missed 13 of their 15 first-half 3-point attempts and shot less than 40 percent from the field in the game.
AATL’s defensive pressure kept Vanguard from running away, but the Wildcats never seriously threatened in the second half.
“We just kinda ran out of gas,” Haslam said.
Senior Abaz Igwe led AATL with 12 points, and Ethan Haslam chipped in 10 points
Staff writers Matt Baker and Rodney Page, and correspondents Steve Lee, Darek Sharp and Mike Cobb of the Ledger contributed to this report.