ORLANDO — Nature Coast must have left all its good karma in New Port Richey.
Pick a way to be set back and it probably happened to the Sharks in the first half during their Class 4A boys basketball region final Saturday night at Orlando Oak Ridge.
The mere fact that Nature Coast wasn't run out of the gymnasium is remarkable considering it faced a 20-point deficit late in the third quarter.
The best season in program history did end in a 56-48 loss to the Pioneers, leaving the Sharks one win shy of reaching the Class 4A state final four in Lakeland.
"I'm really proud of my guys," Sharks coach Dave Pisarcik said. "I wouldn't trade locker rooms with any other team in the state."
Both teams were hampered by constant whistles in the first half — 29 total fouls were called by halftime.
For Nature Coast, that half stood in stark contrast to the dominant performance it had in a 76-58 win against Ridgewood on Tuesday to get here.
Pick a Shark and he was in foul trouble early, leaving Pisarcik with the task of nursing the wound.
"They're being aggressive," Pisarcik said of Oak Ridge (23-8). "We try to match it, and we can't because we're all in foul trouble. It changes the way you play."
Nature Coast (27-4) managed to stay within striking distance, trailing 23-12 at halftime.
Then the matchup between Tyler Bergantino and Georgia signee Cady Lalanne (both 6 feet, 9 inches) materialized in the second half. In the end, Lalanne led all scorers with 20 points while Bergantino walked away with a team-high 19 and Lalanne's respect.
"The kid has a lot of potential and a big body," Lalanne said. "He gave me a challenge. He made me work for mine."
Another asset was the play of Sharks senior Adam Smith, who finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds after concerns about an ankle injury entering the game.
The biggest hurdles turned out to be a first-half span of more than 10 minutes without a field goal and the Sharks' inability to drain jumpers, including a slew of 3-pointers.
The only one came from guard Blake Lowman during a 17-6 run in the fourth quarter.
Two more Bergantino baskets made it 48-41 with 3:35 left.
But the Pioneers pushed the score to 56-43 with a minute remaining before eating up most of the remaining clock.
"In the locker room I looked around at all the seniors," Bergantino said. "I didn't do my job in the first half. I tried to step up as much as I could. … I left everything out on the court for them."
Izzy Gould can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 421-3886.