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GAINESVILLE — Nature Coast coach David Pisarcik couldn’t finish a sentence without some sort of interruption after his team’s win Saturday night. For every couple words spoken, he absorbed approval: a pound, a pat, a hand slap, a smile.
“Please excuse our excitement,” Pisarcik said, the knot of his tie loosened after Nature Coast’s 52-39 win at Gainesville Eastside in the Class 5A region final. “This is a big deal.”
After coming up one game short the last two seasons, the Sharks (29-1) advanced to the state semifinals Saturday. Pisarcik credited his team’s maturity. Unlike in past years, he said, this group wasn’t happy just reaching the regional finals.
But against Gainesville (25-5), Nature Coast leaned on a sophomore who didn’t play for the Sharks last season. Rohan Blackwood, who transferred from Gulf High before this school year, led the Sharks with 19 points and was pulled from the game to a standing ovation with 1:22 left.
Blackwood said he knows how the older players felt when they dropped the regional finals the last two years. Both times, Blackwood was in the stands watching.
“I remember seeing those losses,” he said. “I felt for them.”
Blackwood credited 6-foot-9 senior Tyler Bergantino, who finished with nine points, for drawing Gainesville’s attention Saturday. After Bergantino scored six in the first quarter, the Rams double teamed him, opening up opportunities for Blackwood.
“Rohan’s that type of player,” Pisarcik said. “When teams want to double-, triple-team Tyler, Rohan will make you pay. And of course, Tyler demands that attention.”
Gainesville actually jumped ahead early, taking a 15-13 lead at the end of the first quarter. But Nature Coast opened the second on a 13-0 run and kept the Rams at an arm’s distance for the rest of the game.
After the Sharks’ second-quarter rally, Gainesville never cut the deficit lower than eight.
At halftime, Blackwood said his teammates urged each other to keep pushing, to not let it slip away this time. After the game, players piled on each other. Bergantino screamed.
“We finally got it,” he said. “It was like a curse: The Elite Eight Curse. But finally, finally, the rain clouds are not over our heads.”