CLEARWATER — A day after losing its first game of the season by 27 points, the Nature Coast boys basketball team regrouped, building a big lead and holding on in the second half to beat host Clearwater 55-46 Saturday in the third-place game of the Brighthouse Holiday Tournament.
"I thought we played a great first half," Sharks coach David Pisarcik said.
Nature Coast (10-1) had everything working for two quarters as Joey Dudek hit short jumpers, Cody Bergantino dominated inside and Carlos Clemente connected from the outside. The big run came midway through the second quarter when the Sharks outscored the Tornadoes 22-9 to turn a close game into a comfortable 29-15 halftime lead.
Clearwater (4-5) faced a daunting task. But the Tornadoes showed creativity and grit in pressing their way back into the game. A series of steals and transition baskets late in the third quarter and early in the fourth helped Clearwater twice cut the deficit to six.
"There were a lot of positives that came out of this one," Tornadoes coach Tom Shaneyfelt said. "We played with as much spirit and energy as we have all year. A lot of that had to do with the pressure. We stayed in a zone for most of the first half in hopes of trying to slow them down and then we had to switch it up."
The inability to handle the pressure applied by opposing teams has been a troubling trend for Nature Coast the past two games.
In Friday's semifinal loss against Winter Haven, the Sharks trailed by just three points before allowing a 23-0 run down the stretch.
"The way Clearwater pressured us kind of reminded me of that semifinal game," Pisarcik said. "Clearwater was a good physical team, and we were tested in the second half. We've got to find a way to beat that pressure and not let teams stay within striking distance."
In the fourth quarter, the Tornadoes could not get any closer. Nature Coast hit two key layups and a pair of free throws in the final two minutes to put the game out of reach.
Clemente led the Sharks with 20 points, including hitting 5 of 6 free throws.
Rasim Avmet scored a team-high 16 for Clearwater.
"It was a nice comeback but we just had to use so much energy to keep it close," Shaneyfelt said.
Winter Haven faced Poinciana in the late final.