BROOKSVILLE — It's virtually an unspoken rule in basketball: Teams forced to foul in the waning moments of games typically can do so — if they don't get carried away — without fear of the foul being ruled intentional.
Such was the presumption of Gulf when Buccaneers junior Colleen McAuliffe went to foul Nature Coast's Jen Marshall in the backcourt with 11.5 seconds to play and Gulf trailing by two in Friday night's Class 4A, District 8 semifinals.
But to the dismay of the Bucs and delight of the Sharks, an intentional was called.
The result: Bucs coach Mike Quarto was enraged, Sharks counterpart Travis Lamle was pleasantly stunned, one livid fan was ejected and a Nature Coast triumph was sealed.
Marshall coolly sank both free throws. Her team got the ball back, and she hit the first of two tries four seconds later, after sustaining a far more intentional foul, to help lift Nature Coast to an intense 40-34 triumph.
"We thought we went after the ball," Quarto said. "The referee saw it different; he called the intentional foul."
The third-seeded Sharks (20-6) face top-seeded Wiregrass Ranch (22-4) in tonight's 7 p.m. title game at Nature Coast. Quarto, who guarded his postgame comments (at least for reporters), watched his 22-5 team's season end.
"I can't say anything about that," Quarto said when asked if it was an unwritten rule not to call an intentional in such situations. "I'll get in trouble."
Lamle said he didn't see the foul and wasn't aware it was ruled an intentional until his assistant told him, but added: "I'd be upset if I was the coach in that situation."
"I don't know if that changes the game or not," Lamle said. "You're fouling the best free-throw shooter around in Jen Marshall."
Indeed, Quarto had more to attribute to the loss than one whistle. His club sank only 9-of-20 free throws, and had no first-half answer for Sharks 6-foot senior center Shareka Maner.
Scoring on treys, turnarounds and transition layups, Maner had 13 of her 21 points before halftime. After Gulf went on an 11-0 second-half run, she scored seven of the Sharks' next nine points as the hosts responded with a 9-1 spurt to take a 35-31 lead.
"The past five or six games, she's been absolutely incredible," Lamle said. "Her intensity's been there, her desire to win is much higher. She's just been an animal for us."
Wiregrass Ranch survived a litany of turnovers, nine lead changes and the hot hand of Hernando junior Jasmire Brown (15 points) to eke out a 52-49 win in the other semifinal. The victory clinched the Bulls' first playoff berth.
"The girls have never been in this situation before and they don't know what to expect," Bulls coach Greg Finkel said. "Yes, we're going to have to clean up. Our young ladies might have been a little too complacent, on top of having a couple of nerves."
Sophomore Kayla DeLoach had a double double (12 points, 11 rebounds) for the Bulls, who defeated Nature Coast twice in the regular season.