WESLEY CHAPEL — If Friday night’s Class 5A, District 7 showdown with Wesley Chapel is any indication of what’s to come from Nature Coast, one thing is certain: the Sharks don’t back down when tribulation strikes.
Despite never trailing in the game, NCT (7-0, 5-0) — which was without 6-foot-5 power forward Rohan Blackwood due to illness — had to fight off a late run by the host Wildcats after blowing a 12-point lead. But the Sharks survived for a 47-43 victory, securing sole possession of first place in the district.
“Anytime you’re playing a good team like Wesley Chapel, no lead is really safe,” NCT coach David Piscarik said with a smile.
With 2:46 remaining in the fourth quarter, Wesley Chapel (8-1, 4-1) tied the score at 41 after a steal and layup by Riyan McCrary, which capped a 14-3 run that was spearheaded by Marcus Hayne’s team-high 15 points. But the Sharks weren’t about to let the game slip out of their hands.
On the ensuring possession, senior Jordan Burkes grabbed a rebound and quickly dribbled up the court to find a waiting Carlos Clemente on the right side of the arc. With one heave, Clemente (10 points, 11 rebounds) drained the long 3-pointer to give NCT the lead for good.
“I just wanted to push it so we didn’t have to beat the team down the court,” said Burkes, who hit three free throws inside the final minute. “I saw Carlos down in the corner, and that’s our best shooter. So I gave it to him and he knocked it down.”
Both teams came into the contest averaging more than 60 points per game, but there was little scoring early thanks to multiple turnovers and missed shots.
NCT began to hit its stride from the floor in the second quarter, though, after a 3-pointer by Burkes to open the period and multiple transition baskets to set the tone offensively for the remainder of the game.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Piscarik said. “We’ve got to play them again at our place and we’ve got to play them probably in districts. …We know it’s not going to be easy, but we’re up for the challenge.”