BROOKSVILLE — A difficult rivalry has developed over the past two seasons between Nature Coast and district foe Eustis, and that rivalry helped fuel the Sharks’ departure from the Class 5A state playoffs.
The Panthers, who had lost all three previous meetings this season with Nature Coast, eliminated the Sharks with a 73-62 overtime win at the Shark Tank in Tuesday night’s region semifinal.
For Nature Coast (24-4), the loss was bitter on many levels. Despite opening the game down 9-0, the Sharks dominated most of regulation to hold a four-point lead as time wore down in the fourth quarter.
A crucial foul call on Sharks leading scorer and rebounder Rohan Blackwood rose the junior forward’s frustration. The foul was his fourth, and after a few choice words, a technical handed out by officials was enough to oust him from the game with 5:33 left in regulation.
“Rohan is a big part of our team, but we’ve won a lot of games without him, too,” Nature Coast coach David Pisarcik said. “Those guys know that they were more than capable. Eustis just made more plays than us down the stretch.”
The teams continued to go back and forth, but Nature Coast answered Eustis (20-8) on almost every attempt, and Wyatt Hessler (eight points, four rebounds, four assists) had a chance to give the Sharks a three-point lead with 9.3 seconds remaining.
Hessler, who scored the team’s first basket with 3:39 on the clock in the first quarter, went 1-for-2, setting the score at 60-58 and giving the Panthers an opportunity to tie the game.
After a timeout, Eustis gave the ball to Dustin Dunham on the wing just behind the 3-point line. A pump fake and drive were followed by an athletic layup that fell with only 1.3 seconds left. A last-second heave from beyond halfcourt from Nature Coast point guard Vic Davila (15 points, nine assists) was long.
Dunham continued to dominate in the extra period, finishing with a triple double of 17 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists and five steals. He outscored Nature Coast in the period, 6-3, while the Panthers scored 13 overall.
“Dustin is a great player,” Eustis coach Mike Bowe said. “We tried to draw up a play for him in the district final (where Eustis lost by one point to Nature Coast), but he dished it off at the last second. Tonight, I told him that the game was on his shoulders.”
Nature Coast’s loss was only the third at home dating to 2009.
6A: Final shot goes astray for Mitchell
TRINITY — On a night of breathtaking basketball, the last few seconds were for breath holding.
And Winter Haven was finally able to exhale.
Zach Rapaport’s 30-foot shot looked good but was just off the mark as the buzzer sounded and Mitchell lost a Class 6A region semifinal 74-73.
“I thought it was going in,” he said.
In a back-and-forth affair shots went in more often than not. Winter Haven’s clip was 65 percent in the second half yet Mitchell (21-8) hung tough. Two missed one-and-one’s helped make for a wild last minute.
The Blue Devils (20-10) led by seven on a dunk by Chance McSpadden with 5:30 to play, capping a 9-0 run. Twice the Mustangs got within two but Bernie Conley missed a would-be tying jumper, and Winter Haven pushed the lead back to 74-68 with only 90 seconds remaining.
Mitchell had one more dramatic rush. Lawrence Watt scored, and Winter Haven missed at the line. Mitchell then had two shots rim out only to have a rebound kick to Sean Thompson — who drilled a 3 to make it 74-73 with 29 seconds left.
Winter Haven thought it had an easy layup but Rapaport swatted it, leading to a go-ahead 3 try by Thompson. He was off but McSpadden’s failure at the foul line with seven seconds left set up Rapaport’s shot. The play was supposed to go elsewhere but Winter Haven deflected a pass, and Rapaport did well to get the attempt.
“It’s just unfortunate but I’m very happy with where the program is at. It was such a great game,” said Mitchell coach Jared St. Charles.
Winter Haven jumped ahead 16-6 and McSpadden, the sophomore who hit right on his average of 21 points, admitted he “thought it was going to be an easy game.”
But after a timeout where St. Charles urged his team to “retaliate” and get aggressive on defense, the Mustangs forced Winter Haven into five straight misses, while making their last five shots of the quarter for a 16-all tie. Then a masterful 24-point second period, where senior T.J. Cortright scored 10, including consecutive putbacks for the lead, had Mitchell up 40-34 at halftime.
The third quarter was merely incredible. Combined the squads shot 18-for-26. It only took the precise, poised Blue Devils three minutes to regain the lead; the only miss among their first nine shots was due to a Conley block.
But Mitchell answered and held a 57-55 edge by period’s end.
Cortright and Rapaport were on a list of about six would-be heroes for Mitchell.
Conley scored a team-high 18, Ryan Doherty was instrumental scoring 15 off the bench, and Watt finished with 10 points after being shut out in the first half. Splendid 6-5 guard Kendrick Holland scored 18 for Winter Haven.
Despite Winter Haven’s 71-29 rout of the Mustangs in last year’s regional, Cortright said the Mustangs came in with a positive outlook.
“Honestly, I thought it was going to come down to the last shot the whole time,” he said.
Darek Sharp, Times correspondent