LAKELAND — The seconds were ticking down, and Nature Coast’s 74-49 loss to Jacksonville Terry Parker was inevitable. The Class 5A state semifinal was all but over, and so were the Sharks’ high school careers.
That’s when Blake Lowman found Tyler Bergantino at midcourt of the Lakeland Center, the arena they had dreamed of playing in for four years. Lowman turned to his best friend and stuck out his hand.
“We had a good run at it,” Lowman said.
That run ended Thursday night against Parker (25-5), which never trailed to advance to Saturday’s state title game against Lake Wales.
Senior guard Keith Williams ignited the Braves with four 3-pointers in the first four minutes during a 15-5 opening run. They were the only treys for Williams, who finished with 22 points.
“That really set the tone and really got us going,” Parker coach Elijah Wells said.
NCT (29-2) battled back as it has all season — with Bergantino.
The Sharks pounded the ball to the 6-foot-9 UMass recruit, who scored 11 of his team-high 18 in the second and third quarters. Bergantino finished the last game of one of Hernando County’s most storied careers with 11 rebounds and nine blocks.
“He got us back into it,” NCT coach Dave Pisarcik said.
After trailing by as many as 12 in the first half, Bergantino hit a free throw to cut the deficit to 31-29 with 6:42 left in the third quarter. But the Sharks could never complete the comeback.
Parker blocked a Rohan Blackwood shot. The Sharks missed a putback. Lowman — a Florida Southern signee — had a steal, but NCT threw the ball out of bounds. Then the Braves’ Michael Hoy hit a corner 3.
“Every time we came back or made a run or got it close …” Pisarcik said, “they came and they made a play.”
Lowman’s steal and a Donovan Ingram layup cut the deficit to 36-35 with 3:09 left in the third quarter, but Hoy responded with another trey to spark a 10-2 run to end the period. Parker scored 38 of the game’s 52 points after Ingram’s layup.
Braves forward Lamar Seymore scored 18 of his game-high 23 in the final quarter. An 8-0 Parker run early in the fourth quarter ended any comeback hopes, despite eight points from Blackwood and Lowman’s five assists and four steals.
“Every time we had something, they answered back,” Lowman said.
“It takes a good team to do that,” Bergantino said.
And the Braves were just too good for NCT and its four-year starters who built the North Suncoast’s top program.
Bergantino and Lowman saw rival Springstead advance to Lakeland three years ago and vowed to do the same. They led the Sharks to three consecutive 20-win seasons. They overcame back-to-back heartbreaking losses in the elite eight to advance to the program’s first final four.
And they smiled faintly as they shook hands at midcourt before playing out the final seconds of their last game together.
“It was a good feeling,” Bergantino said.
And then it was over.
Matt Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.