WESLEY CHAPEL — Top-seeded Nature Coast fended off an upset, defeating Central 43-32 in the 5A-7 semifinals Wednesday.
The Sharks (19-7) will play No. 2 seed Hernando (15-5) at 7 p.m. Friday after the Leopards eliminated host Wesley Chapel 53-49 in the other semifinal. The Leopards handed Nature Coast its only league loss this season.
With Nature Coast in need of someone to come through offensively, Carlos Clemente scored seven straight points, capping a 10-0 run with a 3-pointer, to put the Sharks ahead 34-25 with 3:25 left.
Before hitting four straight baskets — Andrew Parker made the other two — the Sharks had converted just 10 of their first 40 shots.
Nature Coast had beaten Central by an average of 25 points during the regular season. On Wednesday, the Sharks didn’t score 25 points themselves until there was 5:30 left. That came after a pair of Parker free throws, part of a 10-for-15 performance by the Sharks at the line in the final period.
Sinjin Blaha scored 21 for Central (12-12).
“We had a great game plan,” Blaha said. “To me, there are no moral victories, this just goes down as one we let get away.”
He said the Bears focused on stopping 6-foot-5 Cody Bergantino when he got the ball in the high post. It worked, as Nature Coast frequently sputtered on offense.
Bergantino had seven rebounds but was limited to seven points. Clemente finished with 15, with 11 coming in the fourth quarter.
“We came in with the mentality that we were going to smash them, and it backfired,” said Sharks forward Rohan Blackwood, who had 13 rebounds. “We didn’t play team ball, and (eventually) we had to or we were going to be out of here.”
Caleb Jones and Terrance Hudson combined for 14 rebounds for Central.
In the other semifinal, Mark Wilson scored 17 for Hernando. The Wildcats were 6-for-33 from the floor in the first half to trail 29-22, and the Leopards went up by 13 early in the third quarter.
But Wesley Chapel embarked on an 11-1 run, with back-to-back putbacks from 6-foot-2 freshman Reggie Jennings pulling the Wildcats within a point.
Hernando responded with the next four on assists from Tyquon Carr and led 43-39 heading into the fourth.
Dallas Maclachlan clinched things by hitting the second of two free throws with 13 seconds remaining. He had 11 points and Mike Jones added 12.
Senior center Marcus Hayne scored 12 to go with 10 rebounds for Wesley Chapel