HUDSON — Nature Coast was looking to make a statement Thursday night in its playoff opener, something bold, something defining, and definitely something with a few exclamation points.
It will have to settle for something understated but satisfying.
That will work until at least Tuesday, now that the Sharks have earned a rematch with Wiregrass Ranch, which is a game they want and need and will probably play in their heads a million times before tipoff.
In their last meeting, the Sharks collapsed down the stretch in the district final, which is why the comeback trail for a 27-3 team started in Hudson on Thursday, and not in Brooksville.
In their 62-56 Class 4A region quarterfinal victory over a scrappy overachieving Cobras squad, the Sharks’ mettle in crunch time was tested again.
“I told them,” said Nature Coast coach David Pisarcik, “that Hudson was not going to go away.”
The Sharks didn’t exactly put Hudson away, inasmuch as they held them off.
Did the Sharks need to put the Cobras away?
It wouldn’t have hurt.
Last week, their failure to put away the Bulls — Wiregrass Ranch scored the last eight points to wipe out a Sharks lead — cast some doubt on a once-promising season and left a lingering pain with the Sharks.
They may still have a postseason run in them — they seem to have all the right parts — but we don’t have any clearer answer than we did before Thursday’s victory.
Clarity will arrive in Wesley Chapel next week, about two hours after the Sharks’ bus does.
“Man, that loss really fired us up,” said Nature Coast big man Tyler Bergantino, who was played to a draw last time by Michael Chase.
“This week at practice, we went at each other like we were opponents. There’s a horrible taste in our mouths, and we can’t wait for the chance to get rid of it.”
This is not to say the Sharks played poorly Thursday night.
Their guard play was excellent early, Bergantino took over when he needed to, and the Sharks led all game, by margins like 14-7, 18-9, 34-24 and 52-40.
When Hudson fought back on the strength of Richey Williams and Jamal Branco to tie the game midway through the third quarter, Nature Coast pushed back — Caleb Martin scored on a rebound and was fouled, then dunked a teammate’s miss, and then worked a perfect give-and-go with Bergantino to build another sizable edge.
But the Sharks, who didn’t substitute all game, never put the lid on the wicker basket, and the Cobras stuck around.
A few bad Shark shots, some sloppy turnovers and 6-for-15 free-throw shooting isn’t closing.
“We kept on trying to put them away, put them away, put them away,” said Bergantino. “But we held on to win. It was a good game.”
For right now, that’s enough.
Next week, it won’t be.
“We couldn’t put Wiregrass away, and we’re still working out the kinks and working on finishing off a ball game,” said guard Donovan Ingram, who had 16 points.
“But tonight I thought our defense crunched down when it had to. It was better. It’ll be better next week, too.”