BROOKSVILLE — Nature Coast needed a spark from point guard Donovan Ingram early in Tuesday’s Class 5A region semifinal against Hudson.
Once the Sharks got it, they were unstoppable.
Ingram’s penetration led a big run to close the first quarter, and Nature Coast dominated the rest of the way to earn a 54-40 victory. The Sharks (28-1) advance to the region final for the third consecutive season and will play at Gainesville Eastside on Saturday.
“It’s definitely a statement win,” Nature Coast coach David Pisarcik said.
And Ingram made it possible.
Hudson (19-11) took a 4-0 lead before Ingram entered the game. The 5-foot-10 senior noticed the Cobras were playing man-to-man defense, so he flew to the basket and found open teammates.
“When I see that, I try to attack,” Ingram said.
The result was a game-changing 14-2 run featuring three Tyler Bergantino dunks that opened up an 18-7 NCT lead two minutes into the second quarter.
The Sharks’ defense made sure the score wouldn’t get much closer. Their press held the Cobras to 24 percent shooting in the first three quarters and kept Hudson star guard Jamal Branco to 10 points — half his scoring average since Jan. 1.
“We knew we had to stop Branco,” NCT guard Blake Lowman said, “because everything goes through him.”
The Sharks’ offense continued to run through Bergantino. The UMass recruit finished with a game-high 23 points and 11 rebounds.
John Parker added 11 points, including a layup late in the third quarter that stopped an 8-2 Hudson run. Lowman chipped in six to help NCT end the Cobras’ season for the second year in a row.
Zack Petersen and Skylor Pryor had 10 points each for Hudson.
Standout performances from Tuesday night
Andrea Mauger and Amelia Oliver, Academy at the Lakes: Wildcats sparked an AATL rally against FAMU in the fourth quarter of the state semis to pull the team within nine. Mauger finished with a team-high 16 points, and Oliver added 15 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
Tyler Bergantino, Nature Coast: UMass recruit had 23 points, five dunks and 11 rebounds to get the Sharks to the elite eight for the third year in a row.
Ethan Haslam, Academy at the Lakes: Freshman tallied 40 points, a career best, in eight-point win over All Saints’.
By the numbers
0 Hits allowed by Fivay’s Jill McElderry in a 12-0 win over Ridgewood
3 Career home runs by River Ridge’s Amber Jones after she hit her first of the year in the Royal Knights’ 7-6 win over Sunlake
10 Points scored by Hudson’s Jamal Branco, Zack Petersen and Skylor Pryor against Nature Coast