BROOKSVILLE — A couple of scheduling conflicts and injuries changed the layout of this week's Hernando Holiday Classic before the tournament even got underway.
The end result was Nature Coast and Citrus, the teams with the best records in the field, advancing to play each other in the semifinals today.
The Sharks slipped past South Sumter 60-32 in the opening round to earn the berth.
Leading scorer and rebounder Rita Jarque (14 points, 12 rebounds) found the sledding tough as she was bracketed by South Sumter's Zynia Carter (11 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks) and Morgan Feldt (six rebounds, three assists). The showdown resulted in foul trouble for Jarque and Carter, and the Sharks junior sat for much of the second and third quarters.
"They really packed it into the paint, more than likely to stop Rita," Nature Coast coach Emily Gore said. "The shots weren't going down for us in the first half, and we had to make some adjustments."
With Jarque on the bench, the Raiders (1-10) enjoyed an advantage in the paint, and kept it close going into halftime, 23-20.
Nature Coast (12-2) regained momentum in the second half. Cousins Fatima and Mirandas Jones did a great job of moving the ball and finding openings offensively to spark the Sharks. Mirandas (17 points, six rebounds, four assists) led the team in scoring, but the most courageous effort came from Fatima.
The junior guard was playing her first game coming off a concussion suffered before winter break. She played the first three quarters, scoring 12 points and dealing out three assists.
"I'd give myself a B (grade)," Fatima Jones said. "There were a lot of things that I could have done better, but I felt like we got some things going in the second half."
When she came out in the fourth, she felt dizzy and nauseous, causing Gore to question her availability for today's semifinal.
"Her status is definitely up in the air," Gore said. "It's more important for us to have her healthy once we get back into the regular schedule."
The Hurricanes jumped out to a big lead in the first half Thursday to eventually dispatch Central, 63-44.
Citrus (13-1) was led by guard Shenelle Toxen, who knocked down four 3-pointers on the way to a first-round high 21 points. The senior also added five rebounds, four assists and five steals.
It was the pressure from the Hurricanes that did in the Bears (5-8). Citrus stole the ball 30 times, led by Micah Jenkins (13 points, five rebounds, nine steals). Treleasha Simmons added 16 points and nine rebounds.
Central was unable to keep pace, although the squad came out much stronger in the second half, outscoring the Hurricanes 25-18 in the last two quarters. Evelyn Anderson led the team with 18 points, and forwards Desiree McGee (eight points, 15 rebounds) and Christina Lewis (four points, 16 rebounds, five assists, five blocks) did plenty of damage in the paint.
The other semifinal will feature West Palm Beach King's Academy and Plant City.
The Raiders (7-7) upset host Hernando 35-32. The Leopards (9-6) got solid efforts from Arianna Tankersley (11 points) and Jaziana Mathis (10 points), but little else.
King's Academy was able to fend off Fivay 38-30 thanks to a 12-0 run in the first half.
The Falcons (6-9) were playing without star forward Alicia Artley, who is out for the season with a left foot injury. Megan Tate was the top player for the Falcons, scoring 13.