BROOKSVILLE — Tyler Bergantino, who currently plays a key role in the rotation for No. 16 UMass, was a star for Nature Coast for four years.
The Sharks went 101-20 in the four years he played, including 6-3 in the postseason with a berth in the state final four his senior season. Many attributed the success of the program almost solely to Bergantino and his intimidating 6-foot-9 presence in the paint.
Nature Coast has dispelled that notion over the past season and a half, in large part due to the play of standout shooting guard Carlos Clemente.
"I practice hard every day," Clemente said. "It's just a matter of hard work and doing my best every time out."
The 6-foot-2 Clemente, who tweeted out "just one more rep" this week in reference to his work ethic, moved to the area from Puerto Rico at the beginning of his junior year, speaking barely any English at the time. His family supported his intention to get a solid education while receiving more exposure for his play on the court. Both have worked out well.
Clemente's English has improved, and by averaging a team-high 17.1 points per game including 40 percent from 3-point range, he has not only shined for the Sharks but stepped to the forefront when needed.
"I am confident in my team and confident in my shooting," Clemente said. "I just stay focused every time I go out there."
The best example of his play came over the winter break. During the Nature Coast Christmas Invitational, he scored a career-high 30 points in an opening-round victory over Steinbrenner. The Sharks counted more on his offense with power forward Rohan Blackwood out of town, and Clemente answered the call.
The following night, Nature Coast was down after the first quarter to Orlando Jones, but Clemente wasn't going to allow the game to get away. The Sharks mounted a 27-0 run behind Clemente. He nailed seven 3-pointers and eclipsed his career best for the second straight game with 32 points. He missed only one attempt from beyond the arc, a desperation full-court heave as the half expired.
"(Clemente) really took over the game," coach David Pisarcik said. "He gave us some momentum when we needed it."
Nature Coast (14-5, 7-0 entering Tuesday) has seen its share of adversity already this season. Blackwood, the team's leading rebounder with almost 10 per game, has missed his share of games while dealing with football scholarship issues. The program's five losses already match the total from last year. Point guard play has been an issue, with Andrew Parker, Jamison Carnegie and Jordan Burkes all attempting to provide some consistency in the backcourt.
"We're comfortable playing with anyone in the lineup," Pisarcik said. "When one guy is down, another guy steps in."
Clemente has served as a Band-Aid for all of this. His sharpshooting from the outside always gives the district-leading Sharks a chance, regardless of the deficit or opponent.
"Teams have become more aware of where Carlos is on the floor," Pisarcik said. "He has the confidence level to make plays. We don't just ask him just to score. He makes plays and opens it up for everybody else."
After four consecutive trips to at least the region semifinals, Nature Coast might not have the same amount of talent or depth, but Pisarcik knows his squad is capable and anxious to prove itself on the big stage.
"Our kids buy into the system, and we feel we'll be successful no matter what we accomplish," Pisarcik said. "In the playoffs, you only get one shot. If you haven't seen a specific style of play, you don't get a second chance."