BROOKSVILLE — Blake Lowman was still wearing his sweat-spotted game jersey Tuesday night when he moved on from Nature Coast’s 14-point win over Hudson.
As the senior guard bolted out of the locker room, he bellowed what his teammates were surely thinking.
“One more,” he said. “Third time’s the charm. Third time’s the charm.”
The Sharks hope it is.
NCT (28-1) is one win from completing its first trip to the state semifinals — and avenging two seasons that ended in disappointment. If they beat Gainesville Eastside on the road in Saturday’s 7 p.m. Class 5A region final, the Sharks would be the North Suncoast’s first final four qualifier since Springstead in 2009.
“We know what this season means for us,” coach David Pisarcik said. “We’ve been to the elite eight before, and we’re back. We’re not satisfied.”
NCT has unfinished business after back-to-back losses in the region finals. The Sharks overcame a 20-point second-half deficit before falling to Orlando Oak Ridge by eight in 2010. They started slowly last season, too, digging an early nine-point hole in a 60-47 home loss to Leesburg.
Pisarcik said he can already tell his team is taking a different mental approach.
“There’s a different feeling,” Pisarcik said. “The last two years, we were sort of happy to be there. Now we’re going there with a mission, and that mission is to find a way to get a win.”
Pisarcik’s team has the guards to back up that optimism.
The scouting report on NCT over the last two years said to press the Sharks’ guards. It worked, as NCT averaged more than 20 turnovers in those region final defeats.
“I don’t think they can say that this year,” Pisarcik said.
Lowman has started for four years, and point guard Donovan Ingram is in his third year. They’ve dropped their turnovers by 1.5 per game since last season.
The rest of the team has also improved, giving Pisarcik a team with six core seniors and the most balanced lineup he’s had.
“I just feel like our chemistry on this team is more than it has been on any other team,” center Tyler Bergantino said.
Sophomore transfer Rohan Blackwood has injected more rebounding into NCT’s lineup, while wings Caleb Martin and John Parker have added scoring sparks at times — including Parker’s 11 points against Hudson on Tuesday.
But the Sharks’ nucleus remains Bergantino and Lowman.
Bergantino, a 6-foot-9 UMass recruit, averages 17.3 points, 13.8 rebounds and 5.8 blocks per game. The Florida Southern-bound Lowman is having a career year in scoring (8.1 ppg), steals (3.1 per game) and rebounding (2.5 per game) while averaging 7.8 assists.
“We wouldn’t be anywhere without them,” Ingram said.
But how deep will the Sharks get with them?
Eastside (25-4) poses a tough test. The Rams edged Citra North Marion by five points in the region semifinals and are in the elite eight for the first time since their 2006 state title run.
Lowman said one more victory and a long-awaited trip to state would validate three years of disappointment.
“It means,” Lowman said, “four years wasn’t a waste.”
Class 2A region final, Academy at the Lakes (17-9) at Orlando Christian Prep (24-5)
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Winner meets: FAMU/Trinity Christian Academy winner in the state semifinals Tuesday
How they advanced: AATL jumped out to a 21-point halftime lead over Winter Haven All Saints’ Academy and hung on late for a 69-61 victory. Orlando Christian Prep avenged an earlier loss to Faith Christian with a 72-34 blowout victory.
Breaking it down: Wildcats freshman Ethan Haslam continued his breakout season with one of the North Suncoast’s top performances all year — a career-high 40 points in the region semifinals. He’s averaging almost 19 points per game and has scored in double figures in every contest this year. Abaz Igwe (9.1 ppg) has been pivotal at times, including a 15-point night in the region quarterfinals, and senior Jarrett Harvey had one of his best games Tuesday, exploding for 15 points against All Saints’. But AATL has an enormous challenge if it hopes to continue its best run in team history and match the girls team with a trip to the final four. The Warriors won three consecutive Class A state titles from 2008-10 before losing in the state semis last year. They’ve been dominant this year, too, winning their past five games by at least 25 points each.