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Preps

Nature Coast Tech rebounds for first playoff victory

By Times Staff Writers
Published February 20, 2004

WILLISTON - With 38 seconds remaining in Thursday's Class 3A, Region 2 quarterfinal at Williston, Nature Coast Tech coach Jason Montgomery adjusted his tie, put on his sports coat and exclaimed, "Sweet 16, baby."

In that moment, Montgomery knew his first-year program had arrived.

It was one thing to win the county championship, tie for second in the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference and finish as District 6 runnerup. But it was something else entirely to beat perennially tough Williston (15-8) for the first playoff win in school history.

Nature Coast shook off a three-point loss in the district final five days earlier at Pasco with a convincing 43-30 victory.

Freshman forward Jessica Eberts scored 14 of her game-high 17 in the second and third quarters as the Sharks outscored the Red Devils 26-15 to turn a first-quarter tie into an 11-point fourth-quarter advantage.

Nature Coast (15-13) faces Orlando Bishop Moore in Tuesday's semifinals.

"It feels really good," Eberts said. "Nobody believed we could do it but us."

Nature Coast did it with a barrage of 3-pointers against Williston's zone defense. Eberts made five 3s and narrowly missed a sixth when she banked in a shot from just inside the arc.

Junior forward Cara Cagan added three 3-pointers and finished with 11 points. Junior point guard Olivia Murray scored six, all from the free-throw line.

"They were beatable, I'd say, we just didn't bring our "A' game," Williston coach Robert Patterson said. "Not taking anything away from Nature Coast. They shot the ball well at a crucial time and were able to pull away."

There were six lead changes and two ties before Williston went ahead 14-10 on Ebony Davis' layup with 4:37 left in the second quarter. But Cagan responded with a 3-pointer a minute later, Mallory Freeman scored off a steal and Eberts added a pair of 3s to cap an 11-2 run that gave Nature Coast a 21-16 halftime lead it never relinquished.

Eberts scored eight, including two 3s, in the third as the Sharks extended their lead to 11. Nature Coast went to its spread offense with six minutes left and converted 7 of 10 free throws, including 6-of-8 by Murray, to pull away.

"It's an extension of what we've been doing," Montgomery said. "We wanted to establish ourselves as the predominant program in the county."

No matter what happens Tuesday, Nature Coast figures to be around to stay. The Sharks return all five starters next season.

"Look how far we've come this year," Murray said. "Just imagine how far we can go next year."

- FRANK PASTOR

Pirates fall apart

DADE CITY - Pasco, which rolled through the regular season with only two losses, saw its postseason come to an abrupt end with a 59-37 drubbing at the hands of Ocala West Port.

"They were all over the court, and we just missed easy shots," coach Tony Vasquez said. "They deserved to win. I don't know if I ran them too hard in practice, but they were a half-step behind tonight. I'll have to re-evaluate how I prepare them for the playoffs."

The Pirates (19-3) led 10-9 early in the second quarter after an Alicia Badger 3-pointer, but West Port ended the half on an 18-4 run and that lead was never threatened. Badger and guard Caitlin Elliot, Pasco's leading scorers, wouldn't hit a shot again until the end of the third quarter, when the Pirates trailed 38-20.

Elliot and Ashley Davis led Pasco with 10 points each, while Badger finished with nine. Kabia Robinson led the Wolf Pack with 12 points, with Camesha Patterson (11) and Sharonglia Bethea (10) joining her in double figures. West Port (19-5) was upset in a two-point loss in its district championship game.

"I told them not to be intimidated by a record - they put five out on the court, just like we do," Wolf Pack coach Kim Bell said. "We knew their key players were their (outside) shooters, and we just said that if we let them get set, they'd launch it. I heard that (Badger) was a good player, and she was decent, but I don't think she scored a lot of points tonight."

- GREG AUMAN

A: Miscues do in Warriors

CITRUS SPRINGS - As one free throw after another clanked off the rim, Seven Rivers Christian forward Rachel Ebert couldn't believe her eyes.

"We've never shot that bad," Ebert said.

The misses were costly. The Warriors entered the playoffs having routed two district opponents, but left feeling as though one had slipped away. Thanks largely to a 10-for-34 effort at the line, Seven Rivers fell to Winter Haven All Saints' 49-40.

"That was demoralizing," Warriors coach Brian Ludwick.

The Warriors (16-3) had other problems, namely 33 turnovers. And it didn't help that Ebert, the team's top player, had flu-like symptoms. Still, Seven Rivers had its chances.

After a sluggish third quarter left the Warriors behind by 14, they rallied in the fourth behind an aggressive full-court press that forced numerous All Saints' (18-8) mistakes. Seven Rivers cut the gap to six with 3:10 left on a 3-point play by forward Alice Zeiss, but still failed at the line.

"I think we just ran out of gas," Ludwick said.

Adding to the Warriors' woes was the performance of All Saints' eighth-grade forward Lindsey McClellan, who scored a game-high 28, including eight in the fourth. McClellan controlled the interior much of the game.

"We just didn't do a good job with our post defense," Ludwick said.

Rachael Capra led Seven Rivers with 13 points. Zeiss had 10.

- KEITH NIEBUHR

[Last modified February 20, 2004, 01:31:57]


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