WESLEY CHAPEL — If Friday night's Class 5A, District 7 showdown with Wesley Chapel is any indication of what's to come from Nature Coast, one thing is certain: the Sharks don't back down when tribulation strikes.
Despite never trailing in the game, NCT (7-0, 5-0) — which was without 6-foot-5 power forward Rohan Blackwood due to illness — had to fight off a late run by the host Wildcats after blowing a 12-point lead. But the Sharks survived for a 47-43 victory, securing sole possession of first place in the district.
"Anytime you're playing a good team like Wesley Chapel, no lead is really safe," NCT coach David Piscarik said with a smile.
With 2:46 remaining in the fourth quarter, Wesley Chapel (8-1, 4-1) tied the score at 41 after a steal and layup by Riyan McCrary, which capped a 14-3 run that was spearheaded by Marcus Hayne's team-high 15 points. But the Sharks weren't about to let the game slip out of their hands.
On the ensuring possession, senior Jordan Burkes grabbed a rebound and quickly dribbled up the court to find a waiting Carlos Clemente on the right side of the arc. With one heave, Clemente (10 points, 11 rebounds) drained the long 3-pointer to give NCT the lead for good.
"I just wanted to push it so we didn't have to beat the team down the court," said Burkes, who hit three free throws inside the final minute. "I saw Carlos down in the corner, and that's our best shooter. So I gave it to him and he knocked it down."
Both teams came into the contest averaging more than 60 points per game, but there was little scoring early thanks to multiple turnovers and missed shots.
NCT began to hit its stride from the floor in the second quarter, though, after a 3-pointer by Burkes to open the period and multiple transition baskets to set the tone offensively for the remainder of the game.
"We've got a lot of work to do," Piscarik said. "We've got to play them again at our place and we've got to play them probably in districts. …We know it's not going to be easy, but we're up for the challenge."
AATL falls in OT thriller
LAND O'LAKES — As Cambridge Christian trailed rival Academy at the Lakes after three quarters, the young Lancers seemed to drag their feet.
Then they started hitting free throws and woke up.
The Lancers pulled ahead in the second overtime to win 76-73 and replace the Wildcats at the top of the Class 2A, District 7 standings.
"This group is new at playing together," Cambridge coach Jay Bowen said. "They're young."
During a series of timeouts late in the fourth, the coach repeatedly told the Lancers to keep their composure. It worked.
"They didn't get down when they were down," Bowen said.
The Lancers were behind by five when the third-quarter buzzer sounded.
With 4:14 left in the fourth, Cambridge Christian's Caleb Young hit a 3, pulling his team ahead, 47-44, for the first time.
The rest of the quarter was a tense, back-and-forth affair with several series of free throws that had fans on their feet. Academy at the Lakes' Ethan Haslam sank a layup with 51.8 seconds remaining, tying the score at 52.
The first overtime didn't settle matters. Haslam and the Lancers' Garrett Young sank shots that kept the score close. The players prepared for a second overtime with the score tied at 61.
Cambridge Christian pulled ahead on free throws, but a layup by Haslam gave the Wildcats their last lead of the game, 66-65.
With 1:16 remaining, the Lancers led by five points. They held onto the ball and paced as long as they could. The Wildcats' Kalique Jones hit a 3 with less than 30 seconds left, drawing fans to their feet again, but the team couldn't catch up.
Young finished with 32 points and Haslam had 36.
Bowen praised AATL as a strong rival. "I don't see how we beat them tonight," he said. "They're a great group."
Mary Kenney, Times staff writer