BROOKSVILLE — Nature Coast was a good team all season, but over the past couple games, the Sharks have learned that the addition of Rohan Blackwood makes them a great team.
After falling to Tarpon Springs in a close game earlier this season, Nature Coast dominated the Spongers from the tip-off in Tuesday night’s Class 5A region semifinal, emerging with a 70-56 victory.
Blackwood missed a majority of the regular season due to football commitments, but his presence on the interior has impacted the Sharks (24-7) both statistically and mentally.
The senior power forward led Nature Coast with 19 points and 12 rebounds, serving as the alternate outlet offensively as Tarpon Springs (27-4) locked in on Carlos Clemente. Clemente, who leads the Sharks with 17 points per game, was held to eight points in the first meeting and 10 on Tuesday.
“On film we could see that they were running the box-and-one (zone trap defense) on Clemente, so we knew we’d need to get our points elsewhere,” Nature Coast coach David Pisarcik said. “That really allowed us to find Rohan, Cody (Bergantino), Ryan (Doherty), and Jordan (Burkes).”
The key defensively was to stop Spongers point guard Trai Halton, who went for 15 points the previous meeting. Halton still had 11 points, five rebounds and five steals, but early foul trouble made his defense less effective.
Burkes (16 points, five rebounds), who transferred from Tampa Catholic before the season began, closed the deal for the Sharks by going 11-of-14 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter as Tarpon Springs attempted to lengthen the game. It was a far cry from the frantic play he struggled through earlier in the season.
“At first, I was trying to be the guy, but (Pisarcik) talked to me and really got my game in order,” Burkes said. “Now I feel like I am more in the flow.”
Doherty (nine points), a Mitchell transfer, knocked down three 3-pointers in the first half, and Bergantino went for 10 points and eight rebounds.
Scottie James (21 points, 12 rebounds) stepped up offensively in the second half, but his efforts were not enough to close the gap any closer than six points before the Sharks extended the advantage again.