BROOKSVILLE — The bad blood was stirred up during the pregame in the Class 4A, District 8 final, and ultimately, the contest on the court was just as heated.
Host Nature Coast, the third seed, rose above the fray to emerge victorious over Wiregrass Ranch 55-44.
During the pregame entrances, the players from both programs crossed paths, as is customary. The exchange went haywire when a ball rack was moved and four Wiregrass Ranch players fell on top of each other, setting off Bulls coach Greg Finkel.
Wiregrass Ranch (22-5) was the top seed, but the Bulls encountered some difficulty in the form of the streaking Sharks. Nature Coast (21-6) employed a stifling, physical defense that caused turnover after turnover. Bull guards Regan Knapik (11 points) and Kelly McCaffrey (15 points) reached double figures, but defense reigned supreme throughout.
"We've been here before," Nature Coast coach Travis Lamle said. "We were the more composed team down the stretch when they seemed to get flustered."
The Sharks were led by a duo that couldn't have been more on top of its game.
Senior center Shareka Maner, a veteran of four district championship games, concluded the best tournament of her career with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
"I think the whole team took this tournament personally," Maner said. "Everyone was talking about Gulf and Wiregrass, and we wanted to show that we were the best team out here."
Guard Jen Marshall was just as instrumental to Nature Coast's third consecutive district title and fifth overall. Marshall went 11 for 17 from the line on her way to 17 points and 12 rebounds.
The heated nature of the game was evident as two technical fouls were issued in the opening quarter to Lamle and Wiregrass guard Julie Gould.
Later in the game, Finkel was issued another technical foul before Gould was issued her second, resulting in her ejection.