Nature Coast (24-7) at Gainesville Eastside (23-6)
What: Class 5A region final
When/where: 7 p.m. Saturday; Eastside High School, 1201 Southeast 43rd St., Gainesville
Directions: I-75 North; take Exit 374 to State Road 20 W (Southeast 13th Ave.)
Skinny: This marks the fifth straight trip to the postseason for the Sharks, and the fifth straight time the program has won at least one game once they got there. Two years ago, Nature Coast — led by UMass standout Tyler Bergantino — went to the final four for the first time. With a few transfers and a young bunch of role players, Sharks coach David Pisarcik brought his team back into position for another run at state. On the other side, Eastside coach Herman “Pop” Williams has his team playing its best ball since the Rams won the Class 5A state title in 2006. A 76-72 overtime victory in the region semifinals over Citrus was led by a balanced attack that has characterized Eastside all year.
Key players: Eastside’s Darius Norman, a 6-foot-1 junior small forward, has been the leading scorer for the Rams down the stretch, one year after not even being on the varsity roster. He dropped 20 on Dunnellon in the first round, the only 20-point effort the Rams have had this postseason. He followed that output with a team-high 17 against Citrus. The Nature Coast defense will need to contain his athleticism. …Carlos Clemente, a 6-foot-2 senior wingman, has been the Sharks’ best scorer all year, bombing away from the outside. As Tarpon Springs learned on film, if you’re going to slow down the Puerto Rican native, it is a good idea to double team him. He still knocked down three 3s against the Spongers.
Key matchup: Nature Coast’s Rohan Blackwood vs. Eastside’s Barry Johnson. Both of these post forces garnered football scholarships in their senior seasons — Blackwood to USF and Johnson to Bethune-Cookman. Each has been the top rebounder for his respective team as well. Blackwood brings an aggressiveness and attitude that the Sharks were missing throughout much of the season, going for a team-high 19 points and 12 boards in the win over Tarpon.