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HUDSON — The noise level inside Hudson’s gym Thursday night before tipoff of its Class 4A region quarterfinal against Nature Coast bordered on deafening.
A large number of Hudson students were in attendance, standing, stomping, clapping, anything to create chaos and distract the Sharks. They wore all white and held white towels that they waved above their heads. Music blared from the sound system, pumping the crowd into even more of a frenzy.
Yet for Nature Coast, the atmosphere was downright comforting.
Having only played nine of 25 regular-season games at home, the Sharks weren’t intimidated by the raucous environment.
In fact, they relished it.
Maintaining its poise throughout, Nature Coast opened a 18-9 lead after the first quarter and never let the Cobras take the lead in a 62-56 victory that has the Sharks headed for the region semifinals for the second straight season.
“I like winning in here more than winning in my gym,” Nature Coast guard Donovan Ingram said. “I’d rather win on the road.”
Ingram and fellow guard Blake Lowman jump started the Sharks (26-3) in the early going. Both players routinely dribbled around their defender and attacked the basket, setting up easy lay-in opportunities. And the Cobras’ help defense was in disarray, leaving 6-foot-9 center Tyler Bergantino open under the basket. Bergantino finished with a game-high 21 points and 13 rebounds.
“There was a lot of energy in the crowd, so it took a little bit to get into the game,” Hudson coach Jason Vetter said. “Nature Coast handled their emotions better at the start probably than we did. …I just think we were a little too geeked up. I think guys were gambling for steals a little too much.”
Hudson (20-9) trailed by five going into halftime and fell behind 30-22 after Ingram sank the Sharks’ only 3-pointer of the game right out of the break. The Cobras responded by going on a 12-2 run, spurred by consecutive 3-pointers from Richey Williams (team-high 19 points), to tie the score at 36.
Nature Coast wouldn’t let Hudson grab the lead, however, and answered with a 10-0 run to take a 46-38 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Sharks pushed the advantage to 52-40 with just over five minutes remaining, but Hudson again fought back behind a full-court press, cutting the deficit to four points with two minutes to go.
“It seemed like every time we went on a run, they punched us right back in the mouth,” Ingram said.
Hudson couldn’t overcome a couple of crucial turnovers in the closing minutes, though, and the Sharks made just enough free throws to stay in front.
“If we could have got it to a one-possession game in the last two minutes, I thought we had a heck of a shot,” Vetter said. “…We just didn’t make quite enough plays.”