GAINESVILLE — Nature Coast and Eastside played in their second Class 5A region final in three years Saturday night.
Eastside (24-6) went up by as many as 15 points in the second quarter. The Sharks battled back but fell short in a wild fourth quarter, losing 48-43.
In 2012, the Sharks defeated the Rams on the road to advance to the final four in Lakeland. This time around it was the Rams’ turn at the same venue, advancing to their first final four since 2006 when they won a state title.
“We’re disappointed. …I felt we had opportunities to win the game,” Nature Coast coach David Pisarcik said. “We missed some layups and free throws, and we missed some defensive assignments. You can’t have a combination of things go wrong in this type of game. It took us a while to adjust to Eastside’s athleticism, and it was tough for us to execute.”
The score was tied at 34 going into the fourth. Eastside’s Thomas Lundy (17 points) struck the first blow of the quarter as he sank two free throws for a 36-34 lead, Darius Norman (14 points) had a lay-in basket to give the Rams a 40-36 lead.
But the Sharks (24-8) kept fighting, and junior guard Andrew Parker hit a bank shot off the glass, and senior guard Jordan Burkes assisted senior forward Cody Bergantino for the tying basket.
Lundy scored a baseline jumper to put the Rams back ahead. After a Rams free throw, the Sharks tied the score at 43 as senior guard Carlos Clemente (19 points) ripped the net on a difficult 3-pointer from the corner with a defender in his face.
The Sharks had a chance to take the lead, but Nature Coast standout Rohan Blackwood (10 points, six rebounds) missed two free throws after a technical on Eastside, and the Sharks failed to score on the awarded possession.
The Rams made them pay when Norman came up with a loose ball with tough Nature Coast defense draped on him while finding Lundy open for a 3.
In the first quarter, Eastside got scoring production from five players, and they went up by a score of 22-7 with 4:42 remaining before the half. The Sharks got back into the game going on a 12-2 run to pull within 24-19 at intermission.
Blackwood and Clemente both combined for 12 points during the second quarter.
“I’m proud our guys never gave up,” Pisarcik said.
Added Eastside coach Herman “Pop” Williams: “Nature Coast is a good team, and Clemente and Blackwood played a hell of a game.”