Best chances to move on
1. Nature Coast Tech: At 27-1, the boys are easily the North Suncoast’s best team, with size, speed and depth. Even a potential rematch with district foe Eustis doesn’t seem as much of a roadblock as it did earlier this season.
2. Academy at the Lakes: The girls squad was a game from the final four last season, but should break through in 2012. None of the teams in their region are as good or have played half the schedule the Wildcats have.
3. Gulf: The girls are 24-2, with both losses coming by one point. Beating Pasco, though, gets harder and harder each time.
4. Wiregrass Ranch: This may be a reach, but the Bulls boys can score enough to get out of their region. Thursday’s opponent, St. Petersburg, is used to playing against the Bulls’ up-tempo style, but if Wiregrass Ranch can figure the Green Devils out, the region final is reachable.
5. Land O’Lakes: The Gator boys seem to be peaking at the right time, and their defense has been adept at shutting down the opponents most dangerous player.
Land O’Lakes has won 14 straight games and is the hottest Pasco County team heading into regionals.
But the Gators are on another streak as well: 0-7 in region quarterfinal games.
But coach Dave Puhalski could finally get that playoff win against Lake Gibson. The Braves have lost five of their past seven games and made the playoffs competing in a weak four-team district where the bottom three teams went a combined 20-47.
You can’t find a better matchup of rebounders in all of Tampa Bay than Thursday’s meeting between Wesley Chapel’s Erik Thomas and Nature Coast’s Tyler Bergantino.
These two may not be matched up head to head, but they will definitely be in touch with each other often.
Bergantino, a 6-foot-9 center, is averaging 13.7 rebounds. If there were official records kept, it's likely he is the North Suncoast’s all-time leading rebounder.
But Thomas will make him fight for his boards Thursday. The 6-4 junior is a glass cleaner supreme, the North Suncoast’s leading rebounder with 14.3, including a 17 average over his last eight games.
One more time
Gulf and Pasco girls meet for the fourth time tonight, and the Bucs have yet to lose.
“There’s no secrets,” said Gulf coach Mike Quarto. “It’s very little X’s and O’s at this point. It comes down to who wants the game more.”
Since losing three times to Pasco in 2006-07, the Bucs have won 12 straight against the one-time county powerhouse. The three Buc wins this season are the only blemishes on the young Pirates’ record.
Time to shine
Academy at the Lakes’ Ethan Haslem (18.3), Mitchell’s Jake Driscoll (23.9) and Wiregrass Ranch’s Rico Kerney (25.9) are their team’s leading scorers, but the bucket fillers only combined for 31 points in losses in last week’s district finals.
All three are on teams capable of winning Thursday, if the stars can shine like they did during the season.
Jason Vetter, arguably the most unappreciated coach in Tampa Bay, is the only guy to ever take Hudson to the playoffs, and he has done so four of the past five seasons.
This job may be his best.
The Cobras started the season 0-6, but have only lost four times since — to an out-of-state team, to Mitchell by one and to Class 5A state semifinalists from a year ago, Bartow and Gibbs, remaining competitive in each.
The Cobras, led by Jamal Branco’s 22.5 points a game since Jan. 1 and six others averaging at least 5.3, will need to defy the odds one more time when they host Eustis, a 23-4 team (two of the losses are to Nature Coast).
Number of the week
999 Career points for Wiregrass Ranch’s Rico Kerney, who is certain to hit the 1,000-point barrier Thursday against St. Petersburg. Kerney should have gotten there in the district final, but had his lowest output (10) of the season.
1. Palatka girls: The winner of the fourth meeting between Pasco and Gulf probably gets Palatka, which is 24-1 and has 74-0 and 80-8 wins to its credit.
2. DeVon Walker, Winter Haven: The Blue Devils’ 6-foot-6 forward averages a double double and is orally committed to UCF. Mitchell has to stop him Thursday, and Land O’Lakes may face him in Round 2.
3. History: The last boys or girls team to make the state semifinals was Wesley Chapel’s boys, who went in 2002 and 2003.