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By JAMAL THALJI
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 4, 2001
BROOKSVILLE -- Six years is a long time to wait between playoff appearances.
Yet that is the last time Central earned a playoff berth, when it also earned its last district runner-up trophy.
That drought ended Friday night as Central fell 1-0 at home in the Bears' Den to Hudson in the final of the Class 2A, District 8 tournament.
When the Class 2A regional quarterfinals begin on Thursday, 2A-8 runner-up Central will be on the road visiting 2A-7 champion Crystal River, a 4-0 winner over Citrus on Friday night.
Actually, the playoff drought ended Thursday night when Springstead had to forfeit its semifinal against Central.
The Springstead administration suspended so many players for unspecified disciplinary reasons the Eagles did not have enough for Thursday's game.
But to the Bears, the circumstances of their playoff arrival do not concern them. Yes, they would have liked to have earned it with a win over the Eagles.
But they're in, and they plan to make the most of it.
"You know, it would have been nice to win and there would be no questions," Central coach John Andruss said. "But we played well (against Hudson). What happened to Springstead, we have no control over it."
Indeed, the Bears played as though they wanted to prove they belonged in the post-season, and not just because of some suspensions. They wanted the district title, and were just minutes away from forcing overtime to decide it.
In the previous two contests, Hudson manhandled Central 3-1 and 3-0. The Cobras were just too physical and too tough to matchup against.
That was not the case in Friday night's district final. Central outshot Hudson 9-5 in the first half, continuously pressing into Cobras' territory and swiping the ball whenever the opposition strayed too close to theirs.
Central also took solace in its heightened level of intensity. Hudson hardly got the best of them physically, and the Bears managed to get their shots in, taking advantage of a space in between the net and the midfield line.
They were long kicks to make, but the Bears' aim was certainly true. Only a few good leaps by Cobras' goalkeeper Rob Mahler managed to keep Central off the scoreboard.
"There's not much I can complain about," Andruss said. "The guys played hard and that's a good team.
"We played them really physical tonight, more than we ever have in the past. We hung in there with them. We didn't do everything we would have liked to, but Hudson is a good team."
The plan against Crystal River will be the same.
"Just do what we did tonight," he said. "Come out and play hard and see what happens."
The Bears' Dave Bernard said he was happy with his team's effort.
"It was very physical," he said. "It's been physical the previous two times we've played them, so we expected it to be this way. We played well, they just got us.