It would be easy to talk about the star of Nature Coast. But that isn't what is going to get the Sharks over the hump in 2012. • After consecutive trips to the region final and consecutive losses in that round, Nature Coast knows the opportunity to make it further is starting to slip away. • Tyler Bergantino, the star center, is in his final season and will attend Massachusetts next fall. He has done his job over the past two seasons, averaging a double double and getting better each time he takes the floor.
At 6 feet 9, Bergantino is a dominating presence and owns the paint against almost every opponent the Sharks play. He averaged 17.9 points and 12.6 rebounds as a junior to go with 4.8 blocks in 33 games. Although he had a tough game in the season-ending loss to Leesburg, he had a career-defining game in the previous contest at Wiregrass Ranch.
The Bulls and Sharks had become rivals over the course of the season. And Bergantino stepped up his game to go for 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting with 13 rebounds and two blocks. The center willed his team to that victory.
He has the same kind of attitude entering this season.
"Our end to last season was difficult," Bergantino said. "We know everyone is aiming at us, but we also know that this (season) is our best chance. We need to be mentally tough."
If the Sharks are going to have that chance, then Bergantino isn't going to be the reason they push through.
The supporting cast is going to have to play at a level above where it has in past seasons. The names and talent Nature Coast coach David Picarsik has on the roster suggest that is more than a possibility.
At the point, the Sharks will start fellow senior and Florida Southern commitment Blake Lowman. Known for his solid decision-making and plus-shooting ability, Lowman stretches the floor and can find the open man, whether it's Bergantino or another threat.
"We work well together," Lowman said. "We have a good chemistry, and I think that helps us on and off the court."
Caleb Martin is another tall, athletic power.
Last season as a sophomore, Martin showed touch from beyond the arc despite his 6-7 frame. He led the club in 3-pointers with 31 over the course of the season and averaged 8.6 points, fourth on the team. Although he was third on the team last season in rebounding (5.1 per game), he will be asked to step up in that area with the graduation of Matt Dennis.
A lot of talk has gone into the addition of Gulf transfer Rohan Blackwood. A former star scorer for the Buccaneers, the 6-5 sophomore averaged 13.1 points last season in a system that relied more on ability than organization.
Now that he is being asked to show some discipline, Blackwood has a great deal of work to do, and he will come off the bench to start the schedule.
Picarsik is as aware of his team's position as anyone. He wants success for all of his players, but mostly for his seniors.
"I don't think we'll be rebuilding next season," he said.
"But the window is definitely closing."
Teams to watch
The Bulls advanced to the region semifinal last season before falling to Nature Coast. To get back there, Wiregrass will have to overcome the loss of eight seniors, including stars Tanner Carey and Michael Chase.
The Sharks have a deep team and could be in for a breakout season. Senior Sevy Galati has led Anclote in rebounding and blocks the past two seasons while Brandon McWhorter will be a key contributor at guard.
The Bulldogs struggled through a one-win season last winter. They lost seven seniors and will try to turn the program around with senior guards Jose Baez and Joey Norman.
Players to watch
Ethan Haslam, Academy at the Lakes: The 6-foot-2 guard led his team in scoring last season as an eighth-grader. Much will be expected of him this winter with a season of high school experience under his belt.
Jake Driscoll, Mitchell: The 6-foot senior guard averaged 23 points and seven rebounds last season. A strong AAU season attracted the attention of recruiters from a few small Division I programs.
Tony Hays, Ridgewood: The 6-foot-2 senior forward has improved steadily each season and could be ready to break out. He shot 44 percent from the field last season and averaged 5.2 rebounds.
Times staff writer Matt Baker contributed to this report.