CLEARWATER — For a little more than two quarters, Nature Coast stayed within striking range of Winter Haven, cutting its deficit to 30-27. It gave they Sharks confidence that they could win their semifinal game and stay undefeated.
At about that time, the Blue Devils dialed up the pressure. Relying on its speed, Winter Haven trapped and harassed. That made life miserable for Nature Coast, which could not play the game to which it was accustomed.
The result was a barrage of turnovers and easy transition points for the Blue Devils, who went on a 23-0 run en route to a 57-30 victory Friday at the Bright House Holiday Tournament.
The Sharks (9-1) play Clearwater in tonight’s consolation game at 6. Winter Haven faces Poinciana in the championship game at 8.
“Winter Haven is incredibly fast and athletic and we just aren’t used to that type of quickness,” Nature Coast coach David Pisarcik said. “We might see it here or there for a little while in some games but not like this.”
It didn’t help that the Sharks missed their most athletic player, Rohan Blackwood, who was in Wisconsin for an all-star football game.
His absence was felt midway through the third quarter when the Blue Devils turned up the intensity. Chance McSpadden, rated as a four-star recruit by ESPN, ignited Winter Haven’s run.
He had a team-high 23 points, including 12 during that second-half run.
“(McSpadden) just took over,” Pisarcik said. “It was like he decided that we had hung around in the game too much, and like any great player, he went out and closed the game for his team.”
The Sharks did not have a player reach double figures in scoring. Jordan Burkes led the team with eight points.
Though Nature Coast was routed, this was the kind of game Pisarcik wanted for his team in this tournament.
“We wanted to be in this tournament to see something different and play this type of speed,” Pisarcik said. “It will only make us better.”
The pressure also got to the Tornadoes in a 75-43 loss to Poinciana in the other semifinal. Clearwater (4-4) stayed close until the second half when it was outscored 46-13. Rasim Avmet was the Tornadoes’ leading scorer with 10 points.
“We’re still learning and adjusting and we’ve got to find ways to deal that kind of pressure in a game,” Clearwater coach Tom Shaneyfelt said.