BROOKSVILLE — Against a Eustis club that made the playoffs last year and is considered a final four contender this winter, Nature Coast knew it would need a stifling defense to have a shot at a victory.
And Friday night, the Sharks came through with one of the best defensive performances in school history.
Nature Coast held the Panthers scoreless in the second quarter and coasted to a 46-24 victory in a battle between the top contenders in Class 5A, District 7.
“We knew it would take pretty much a perfect game defensively to be able to beat this Eustis team,” Sharks coach David Pisarcik said. “They’re good.”
But the Panthers (4-2) couldn’t get any offense against Nature Coast (6-1).
Eustis’ 24 points were the fewest by a Nature Coast opponent since Weeki Wachee mustered only 20 points last November in one of the Hornets’ first-ever varsity games.
Yamil Marrero sparked the Sharks’ defense with a pair of early blocks, and Nature Coast forced five turnovers in a sloppy first quarter.
Then NCT found another gear.
Its defense held Eustis without a point for more than 10 minutes while racking up a double-digit lead. The Panthers missed six consecutive free throws and struggled with open looks. On one possession in the third quarter, Eustis missed one dunk and clanked another off the rim after the rebound.
Sharks junior Rohan Blackwood sealed the game with a 6-0 individual run early in the fourth quarter. The Division-I prospect led all scorers with 16 points.
“Our guys came up, and they were ready to play,” Pisarcik said. “We knew what type of measuring stick this would be toward what type of team we are.
“I think our guys stepped up to the plate tonight.”
Though Pisarcik was happy after his team handed Eustis its worst loss in six seasons, he reminded his team that the job wasn’t over.
The Panthers gave NCT its only regular-season loss last year — but the Sharks got the last word by knocking off Eustis in the district championship game and advancing to the state semifinals.
Marrero and Victor Davila both added six points for NCT. Wyatt Hessler chipped in five points and eight rebounds, and sharpshooter Carlos Clemente added five points.
Dustin Dunham led Eustis with nine points.
Matt Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.