BROOKSVILLE — Tuesday night was arguably the most anticipated high school basketball game in Hernando County history, and the crowd on hand at Central backed that up.
The crowd did not quiet down after the player introductions, but the second half was all Nature Coast as the Sharks pulled away from Central for the 70-48 victory.
The Sharks (27-1) avenged their only loss of the season, a tough 67-59 defeat in the district championship two weeks ago. The motivation was obvious as the team came out for warmups.
"This was our fourth time playing Central (this year), but there is only one time when a loss can end your season," Nature Coast coach David Pisarcik said. "Our guys came ready to play, and it showed."
Sharks junior Robert McAfee has been tagged with the responsibility of guarding the opposing team's best offensive player all season long.
On Tuesday, taking on Central guard Caleb Johnson was his task, and he answered the call. Johnson went for 30 points in the first round against River Ridge and was averaging over 20 per game. Due in part to McAfee, the senior standout was held to only six points.
In the first half, McAfee also bore the offensive load for the Sharks. Averaging only nine per game, the guard had 14 at halftime and finished with 18 points and eight boards.
The score was tight until nearly the end of the third. With the scoreboard reading 44-41 in favor of Nature Coast, the Sharks scored the final basket of the period. That was the beginning of a 26-7 run to close out the game. In that span, Kaine McColley outscored Central (20-10) by himself on the way to a game-high 21 points.
"Coach (Pisarcik) just told me in the locker room that I needed to be more aggressive," McColley said. "I had a smaller defender on me, and the shots started to fall."
McColley's baseline dunk with less than a minute remaining capped the scoring.
There was a solid battle in the paint between Nature Coast's Jordan Baxter (14 points, nine rebounds, three blocks) and Central's Andrew Krienes (14 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks). Both flirted with foul trouble at different times in the game, but their presence made life difficult under the rim for the other players.
Nature Coast travels to Palatka on Friday night in the Class 6A region final. It is the fifth time in the region final for the Sharks.