BROOKSVILLE — Hernando struggled last season, but the team's one saving grace was beating crosstown rival Nature Coast on three separate occasions.
But the Leopards' strength from one year ago has become their weakness. And Wednesday, Nature Coast picked up its second straight victory over them, 46-34.
"We had to focus on what we needed to do to play well," Nature Coast coach Emily Gore said. "Hernando showed up to play, and we had to adjust to that and play our game.”
The Sharks (11-2, 8-1) knocked off Hernando (8-4, 5-3) by 28 points a month ago. With both teams looking to position themselves in the Class 5A, District 7 race, Wednesday night's game took on extra importance.
Nature Coast played without second-leading scorer Fatima Jones, out with a concussion she suffered in a win over Central on Tuesday.
Averaging 15.7 points per game, her loss was big for the Sharks. However, Hernando was dealing with its own injury with leading rebounder Ali Bronson (8.2 per game) still out with a sprained ligament in her foot.
One star did come to play, and Rita Jarque shined brightly. After a slow start in a physical game, Jarque took over in the second half to finish close to a triple double (18 points, 20 rebounds and eight steals). Emmalee Harris, filling in for Jones at the point, had her best performance of the season, scoring 11 points to go with six rebounds.
"I was frustrated early, but I kept my composure," Jarque said. "Without Fatima, I knew that the team was counting on me more."
Whenever Hernando would go on an offensive run, the Sharks would answer. Arianna Tankersley (10 points, five rebounds) did her best to shoulder the load, but she and her teammates struggled to make shots.
"We just came out flat," Hernando coach Kevin Bittinger said. "There's just something about (playing) Nature Coast that gets the girls emotionally charged.
"Sometimes, it's good. But this season, it has worked out the other way."