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Anclote boys finally break through for first playoff basketball win

And it’s a thriller with the Sharks edging Alachua Santa Fe 69-63 thanks to stellar free-throw shooting late.
Jalen Cooper, seen here in a game earlier this season, leads Anclote with 27 points on Thursday night. [SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times]

HOLIDAY — At this point last year, Anclote could almost taste its first playoff victory for boys basketball.

One thing the Sharks were not able to do down the stretch, however, was finish off an opponent. They eventually lost to Nature Coast, a learning experience that helped immensely Thursday night when Anclote hosted Alachua Santa Fe.

The Sharks were unable to get off to a fast start, and were tied 26-all at halftime, but got going in the third quarter and never looked back. Jalen Cooper led the Sharks with 27 points, guiding them to a 69-63 victory in a Class 4A, Region 2 quarterfinal.

The Sharks (23-5) will now face the No. 1 seed in the region in Lake Highland Prep, which soundly defeated Wesley Chapel 66-34. Anclote defeated Wesley Chapel in the regular season 70-52.

"That means a lot,” Cooper said of the team picking up the program’s first playoff victory. “That puts our school on the map for future years.”

Initially Thursday it appeared playoff jitters were coming back to haunt the Sharks. Anclote fell behind 15-11 out of the gate, but was able to climb back to tie heading into intermission. Cooper battled most of the evening against Santa Fe’s 6-foot-9 Ernest Ross (11 points, seven rebounds).

Cooper got himself going in the third quarter after a lackluster first half of play. The forward ended up scoring 19 of his 27 points in the second half, including knocking down 12 free throws. Cooper also was helping out on the boards heavily, collecting 13 rebounds. Teammate Jacobie Forrest had a solid scoring night, ending the evening with 16 points and five rebounds.

In the final minute and a half, with the score tied at 61-all, senior guard Keith Brown knocked down the crucial 3-pointer from the right corner to give Anclote a much needed 64-61 lead late.

After Santa Fe (14-13) couldn’t match Brown’s 3-pointer, a technical foul was assessed to Raiders’ guard Jamir Harris while they were in the bonus. The sequence gave Cooper four straight free throws to make and essentially iced the game for the Sharks.

Region semifinals

Games 7 p.m. Tuesday.

7A: No. 3 Wharton at No. 2 Windermere

6A: No. 5 Charlotte at No. 1 East Lake

6A: No. 7 St. Petersburg at No. 3 Fort Myers

6A: No. 7 Lakeland at No. 3 Hillsborough

5A: No. 4 Port Charlotte at No. 1 Clearwater

5A: No. 3 Naples at No. 2 Jesuit

5A: No. 3 Land O’ Lakes at No. 2 Orlando Jones

4A: No. 5 Lakewood at No. 1 Tampa Catholic

4A: No. 4 Anclote at No. 1 Lake Highland Prep

3A: No. 4 Calvary Christian at No. 1 Community School of Naples

3A: No. 7 Seffner Christian at No. 6 Fort Myers Canterbury

2A: No. 3 Cambridge Christian at No. 2 Bayshore Christian