BROOKSVILLE — Looking over the Nature Coast boys basketball roster, it’s difficult to focus on any player other than Tyler Bergantino.
At 6-foot-9, Bergantino grabs attention before tip-off and holds it with his play on the court.
The junior center averages 18 points, 12 rebounds and five rejections a game and has led the Sharks to the brink of a state final four bid each of the last two seasons.
With his wide body rooting out space under the basket and a mop of shoulder-length hair trailing behind his every move, Bergantino’s mere presence commands the full attention of an audience.
Look past Bergantino, however, and the real key to the Sharks’ season-long success comes into focus in the form of Donovan Ingram, Blake Lowman, Matt Dennis and Caleb Martin.
Call them the quiet quartet, a cast of role players built around Bergantino who drive the Sharks’ engine and will largely determine if Nature Coast is able to advance past Wiregrass Ranch in Tuesday night’s region semifinal.
Against Hudson five days ago, Ingram sparked the Sharks, utilizing his quickness to routinely beat his defender off the dribble and score 16 critical points. Ingram averaged eight points during the regular season but has significantly increased his scoring output in the postseason.
“He can create so much for us,” Nature Coast coach Dave Pisarcik said. “He’s a good passer. He’s turned into a good shooter. He just creates.”
Martin, a 6-foot-6 junior who can attack the rim and stroke it from the outside, also scored in double figures against Hudson, contributing 11 points and sparking a back-breaking 10-0 run in the third quarter with seven consecutive points.
Caleb’s coming around,” Pisarcik said. “…He can take us to that next level. He’s starting to realize how to play more physical, more aggressive and make an impact on the game.”
Dennis is the second-leading scorer behind Bergantino with nearly 10 points a game, but the 6-foot-5 senior does much more. At nine boards an outing, Dennis rebounds at nearly the same pace as Bergantino, and he is the Sharks’ most active defender with 114 steals on the season.
“He’s our backbone,” Pisarcik said. “He does a combination of things well. When he’s on the floor, he’s playing as hard as he can.”
Then there’s Lowman, a junior and three-year starter at the point with more than 500 points and 500 assists for his prep career. One of the most intelligent players on the court at any time, Lowman knows how to distribute the basketball and rarely commits turnovers.
“It all starts with Blake,” Pisarcik said. “We call him the general. He’s our coach on the floor. He’s one of our captains and knows what we’re trying to do and where to get the ball.”
Combined with Bergantino, the quiet quartet forms one of the most potent lineups on the North Suncoast and in the state.
Class 4A, Region 2 semifinal: Nature Coast (26-3) at Wiregrass Ranch (22-7)
Tipoff: 7 p.m. Tuesday. Admission: $6
The scoop: Look for one of, if not the most competitive games on the North Suncoast this season. The Sharks and the Bulls have met twice, and both games didn’t disappoint. In a regular-season Nature Coast victory Jan. 11, the Sharks got 19 points and 17 rebounds from Tyler Bergantino, plus 15 points and 14 rebounds courtesy of Matt Dennis to prevail 53-45. In the district final Feb. 12, Wiregrass Ranch overcame a 43-38 deficit entering the fourth quarter to win 59-52. Michael Chase provided a huge lift for the Bulls, scoring 20 points, grabbing nine rebounds and helping neutralize Bergantino. A win for Nature Coast would put the Sharks in the region finals for the second year in a row. Last season, Nature Coast upended Ridgewood by 18 points at this stage before falling to Oak Ridge in the region final. Wiregrass Ranch had never qualified for the postseason before this season.
Winner gets: A berth in Saturday’s region final opposite the Lake Weir-Leesburg winner.