Boys Basketball

Rivera’s state title school year’s top story

Springstead 113-pounder Richie Rivera finishes off a takedown against Lleyton Taylor of Riverdale in their quarterfinal match in Class 2A state meet action. Rivera won 5-0. Photo by Matt Pfiffner/Citrus Chronicle

With the school year coming to a close in Hernando County, the time has come to reflect back on the 2016-17 prep sports season.
Success was spread out, with all six FHSAA-sanctioned schools boasting at least one district championship team, and the county had an Elite Eight squad in all three seasons, fall, winter and spring.
Here are the top three stories from the past 10 months of action:
1. Rivera overcomes adversity for state crown

Palatka’s press proves Sharks undoing

Photography by Cheryl Clanton

Nature Coast's Jordan Baxter shoots a free throw against Central in Tuesday's regional semifinal. Photo by Cheryl Clanton

PALATKA – As his players filed out of a postgame locker room one last time, Nature Coast boys basketball head coach Dave Pisarcik made it clear he saw this season as a success.
There was no shame in what the Sharks had accomplished, going undefeated in the regular season and advancing to the Elite Eight for the fifth time in eight seasons.

Sharks gain ‘sweet’ redemption over Bears

Photography by Cheryl Clanton

Nature Coast's Kaine McColley shoots a free throw in Tuesday night's regional semifinal at Central. Photo by Cheryl Clanton

BROOKSVILLE – A week and a half earlier, Nature Coast experienced the only blemish on its season at the hands of county-rival Central.
Nothing will ever capture the district championship for the Sharks, but in a rematch in Tuesday night’s Class 6A, Region 2 boys basketball semifinal, they certainly made up for their one loss of 2016-17.
In front of a boisterous, standing-room-only crowd witnessing perhaps the most meaningful intercounty contest in Hernando County history, Nature Coast gained sweet redemption in the Sweet 16 with a 70-48 victory.

Central rallies late, heads to Sweet 16 vs. Sharks

Photography by Cheryl Clanton

Central's Caleb Johnson dribbles down the court in Thursday night's game against Ridgewood. Photo by Cheryl Clanton

BROOKSVILLE – Central High had waited 20 years to see its boys basketball team host a regional playoff game.
Appropriate, then, that at times Thursday night it felt as though the home fans were producing two decades worth of noise.
In front of a large and often deafening crowd, the Bears mounted a furious rally in the final 3:30 of the fourth quarter in their Class 6A, Region 2 quarterfinal, erasing a seven-point deficit and knocking off visiting Ridgewood, 78-74.

Sports notebook: Gray tabbed as new headman for Hornets

Photo provided

Jacob Gray

For the first time in its history, the Weeki Wachee football program will have a new man at the helm and this week the school officially announced the hiring of Jacob Gray as head coach.
The 25-year-old Gray was plucked off the coaching staff of Jacksonville-Bolles, where he served as special teams coordinator for the Class 4A state runner-up Bulldogs.

Central stuns Sharks for district crown

Photography by Cheryl Clanton

Central celebrates with the district championship trophy on Friday night at Citrus High. Photo by Cheryl Clanton

INVERNESS – When Central won its boys basketball district semifinal over Citrus on Wednesday night, head coach Matt Zandecki guaranteed one thing for Friday night’s final: his Bears would not be intimidated.
At that moment, it may have sounded like blind optimism. But by the end of the Class 6A, District 7 championship game at Citrus High, those words proved prophetic.

Sports notebook: Lady Sharks repeat as state runners-up

Photography by Cheryl Clanton

Nature Coast's girls weightlifting team celebrates with its district championship trophy and medals last month. Photo by Cheryl Clanton

On Friday, the Nature Coast girls weightlifting team traveled to Belleview for the Class 1A FHSAA Finals, and they didn’t return home empty-handed.
For the second year in a row, the Lady Sharks were the state runners-up, scoring 17 points to edge Lake Weir, the team that had defeated Nature Coast at regionals two weeks earlier, by one point. River Ridge was again state champion, scoring 29.

Sports notebook: Nature Coast hires new football coach

Photo provided

Cory Johns

A football team that has gone a combined 22-2 the past two seasons figured to draw plenty of interest for its head coaching vacancy.
No surprise then that Nature Coast received over 80 resumes for its opening this past month, which the school filled this week with the hiring of Kissimmee-Liberty headman Cory Johns.
“It was one of those opportunities I couldn’t pass up,” Johns said. “I’m not into bouncing around. I’m looking for a place to be for a very long time, or at least as long as they’ll keep me. This place looked like it.

Sports notebook: Lady Sharks take second in region

Photo provided

Nature Coast's Samantha Traudt, front, along with (standing from left) Kaitlyn Pierce, Coach Nikki Pierce and Jouie Miller celebrate the trio of lifters' first-place showings and the team's second-place finish at Saturday's regional meet. Photo provided

Nature Coast’s girl weightlifting team continued its march toward the state meet on Saturday, at the Class 1A, Region 5 Meet hosted by Belleview.
The Lady Sharks, hoping to compete for a state crown after finishing as the runners-up a year ago, took second in this meet to Ocala-Lake Weir, 38-42.

Johnson takes control as Central seeks playoff success

Photography by Cheryl Clanton

Central's Caleb Johnson fights for control of the ball against Nature Coast's Robert McAfee, left, and Jordan Baxter. Photo by Cheryl Clanton

Central’s boys basketball team has gone 12 seasons without advancing to the regional playoffs. Caleb Johnson spent the previous two attempting to carve out his niche in the Bears’ starting lineup.
For Johnson, there has been no questioning his role this season, as the junior guard leads the Bears in scoring by a wide margin, averaging 21.1 points per game coming into this week.
Whether Central can move past the district tournament for the first time since 2004 will be answered soon enough, but the Bears (12-8) have locked up the second seed in Class 6A, District 7.

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