Nature Coast at Gainesville Eastside
What: Class 5A
When/where: 7 p.m. Saturday; 1201 Southeast 43rd St., Gainesville
Directions: I-75 North; take Exit 374 to State Road 20 West. Turn right on Southeast 43rd Street.
Skinny: This marks the fifth straight trip to the postseason for the Sharks (24-7) and the fifth straight time they have won at least one game. Two years ago, Nature Coast — led by current UMass standout Tyler Bergantino — went to the state semifinals 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. On the other side, Eastside coach Herman "Pop" Williams has his team playing its best ball since it won the Class 5A state title in 2006. A 76-72 overtime victory over Citrus in the region semifinals was keyed by a balanced attack that has characterized Eastside (23-6) all season.
Key players: Darius Norman, a 6-foot-1 junior small forward, has been the leading scorer for the Rams down the stretch one season after not even being on the varsity roster. He scored 20 points against Dunnellon in the first round, the only 20-point game the Rams have had this postseason. He followed that with a team-high 17 against Citrus. Nature Coast needs to contain his athleticism. Carlos Clemente, a 6-foot-2 senior wingman, has been the Sharks' best scorer all season and a threat from the outside. As Tarpon Springs learned, if you're going to slow down the Puerto Rico native, it is a good idea to double-team him. He still knocked down three 3-pointers against it in the region semifinals.
Key matchup: Nature Coast's Rohan Blackwood and Eastside's Barry Johnson have earned football scholarships; Blackwood to USF and Johnson to Bethune-Cookman. Each has been the top rebounder for his team as well. Blackwood brings an aggressiveness and attitude the Sharks were missing throughout much of the season. He went for a team-high 19 points and 12 rebounds in the win over Tarpon Springs.
Derek J. LaRiviere, Times correspondent