HOLIDAY — If Class 5A-8 has been one of the most unpredictable boys basketball districts this season, Wednesday's semifinals did nothing to change that.
Gulf dominated Land O'Lakes in the first game, 55-28, and Tarpon Springs surged back after a slow first half to defeat Anclote, 64-56. The Buccaneers and Spongers will face each other in Friday's district championship.
This marks Gulf's first playoff appearance since 2005. Tarpon's last quarterfinals showing was in 2011.
"Tonight was probably the first night we didn't care how many points we scored," Gulf coach Travis Priddy said. "We fought for every possession."
The Buccaneers took over early, outscoring the Gators 15-8 in the first quarter, and never let up. Priddy said the end result was surprising.
"Land O'Lakes is too well-coached, too disciplined," he said.
The Gators were the No. 2 seed going into the tournament. Gulf was No. 3.
Gulf's James Grubb led the night in scoring with 21 points. Andre Wilson had 11. Tom Guglielmello and Brandon Dorsey led Land O'Lakes' attack, each with 12 points.
The second game was much closer. Anclote and Tarpon Springs were neck and neck throughout the first half, keeping one- and two-point leads.
"We weren't playing any defense at all in the first half," Tarpon coach Jerry Woodka said.
Anclote led 14-10 at the end of the first quarter. It wasn't until five minutes into the second quarter that the Spongers were able to pull ahead.
The third quarter marked the end for the Sharks. Tarpon's Scottie James scored six points in the first three minutes, leading an aggressive attack that racked up 24 points for the Spongers in the third.
Anclote came back in the fourth ready to play Tarpon's physical game. Both teams were called on several fouls, including a few technicals.
Sharks fans were on their feet when Anclote pushed back to come within six points of catching up with a minute and a half left, but it wasn't enough time. The Sharks trailed by eight when the buzzer sounded.
Anclote's Willie Barrett had a long day. He signed with Marist's football program in the morning, then led the Spongers-Sharks game with 19 points. Ty Carter added another 15.
Damarian Gulley had 18 points for the Spongers, and Trai Halton had 15.
5A-7: Nature Coast dodges upset, KOs Central
WESLEY CHAPEL — Top-seeded Nature Coast fended off an upset, defeating Central 43-32 in the 5A-7 semifinals Wednesday.
The Sharks (19-7) will play No. 2 seed Hernando (15-5) at 7 p.m. Friday after the Leopards eliminated host Wesley Chapel 53-49 in the other semifinal. The Leopards handed Nature Coast its only league loss this season.
With Nature Coast in need of someone to come through offensively, Carlos Clemente scored seven straight points, capping a 10-0 run with a 3-pointer, to put the Sharks ahead 34-25 with 3:25 left.
Before hitting four straight baskets — Andrew Parker made the other two — the Sharks had converted just 10 of their first 40 shots.
Nature Coast had beaten Central by an average of 25 points during the regular season. On Wednesday, the Sharks didn't score 25 points themselves until there was 5:30 left. That came after a pair of Parker free throws, part of a 10-for-15 performance by the Sharks at the line in the final period.
Sinjin Blaha scored 21 for Central (12-12).
"We had a great game plan," Blaha said. "To me, there are no moral victories, this just goes down as one we let get away."
He said the Bears focused on stopping 6-foot-5 Cody Bergantino when he got the ball in the high post. It worked, as Nature Coast frequently sputtered on offense.
Bergantino had seven rebounds but was limited to seven points. Clemente finished with 15, with 11 coming in the fourth quarter.
"We came in with the mentality that we were going to smash them, and it backfired," said Sharks forward Rohan Blackwood, who had 13 rebounds. "We didn't play team ball, and (eventually) we had to or we were going to be out of here."
Caleb Jones and Terrance Hudson combined for 14 rebounds for Central.
In the other semifinal, Mark Wilson scored 17 for Hernando. The Wildcats were 6-for-33 from the floor in the first half to trail 29-22, and the Leopards went up by 13 early in the third quarter.
But Wesley Chapel embarked on an 11-1 run, with back-to-back putbacks from 6-foot-2 freshman Reggie Jennings pulling the Wildcats within a point.
Hernando responded with the next four on assists from Tyquon Carr and led 43-39 heading into the fourth.
Dallas Maclachlan clinched things by hitting the second of two free throws with 13 seconds remaining. He had 11 points and Mike Jones added 12.
Senior center Marcus Hayne scored 12 to go with 10 rebounds for Wesley Chapel.
6A-10: Top seeds will meet in the championship
By the fourth quarter of Wednesday's Class 6A-10 semifinal, Largo had built such a commanding lead that a running clock was used against Springstead.
Packers coach Phil Price started sending in players off the bench, but the roster is so deep, so talented, that even the reserves can go on scoring sprees.
"We put in a couple of players from junior varsity and they hit three straight 3-pointers and go on a 9-0 run," Price said. "It was that kind of night."
It has been that kind of season for Largo, which remained undefeated in district play with an 83-42 win.
The Packers (23-2) will host Mitchell on Friday. The Mustangs advanced with a 37-31 win over Osceola in the other semifinal.
After the first quarter, Largo was tied with the Eagles at 11. Then the Packers went on a roll, outscoring Springstead a combined 43-15 in the second and third quarters.
Largo showed off its balance with 10 players who scored, including four in double figures. Andrew Murphy led the team with 19 points and had four 3-pointers.
The Packers have yet to lose to a bay area team and have won each district game by at least nine points.
Times staff writer Bob Putnam and correspondent Darek Sharp contributed to this report.