BROOKSVILLE — Nature Coast faced Tarpon Springs just once in the regular season, and the Sharks lost. In the region semifinals, they'll have their chance for revenge.
Nature Coast defeated Gulf 56-43 in the first round of the Class 5A tournament. The Sharks face the Spongers, who defeated Hernando, on Tuesday.
"We've been working hard all year," NCT coach David Pisarcik said. "Our season starts at the playoffs."
He said his seniors — Rohan Blackwood, Jordan Burkes, Carlos Clemente, Cody Bergantino and Darius Jones — stepped up to seal the win.
The Bucs kept the first quarter tight, ending it behind 11-10, and nearly caught up after the half. The Sharks finally pulled away for good in the last minutes of the third quarter.
"We thought we'd wear them down a little," Pisarcik said.
A major factor in the Sharks' success was Clemente's free-throw shooting, Pisarcik added. Clemente had 12 opportunities to score from the line and made good on 10 of them.
Though the first quarter was tight, the Sharks pulled ahead in the second, ending the half with a five-point lead. James Grubb sank a layup three minutes into the third quarter, allowing Gulf to draw within two points.
NCT scored on the next play, but Grubb was ready with the follow-up. He hit a shot from under the rim and sank a free throw, pulling the Bucs within one point of a tie with a minute and a half left.
Blackwood fired back across the court to help NCT take back the lead. His first shot within the last minute rolled over the rim to pull the Sharks ahead 32-29.
He charged back again. On the next play he shot, rebounded and shot again, and Jones rebounded to sink another layup. The Sharks were ahead 36-29 going into the fourth.
Clemente led the night in scoring, with 20 points. Bergantino added another 11 for the Sharks.
Grubb led Gulf's attack with 14 points. Andre Wilson had 13.
5A: Hernando falters, falls by 10 at Tarpon Springs
TARPON SPRINGS — Of the hundreds of maroon-clad fans who packed Tarpon Springs' gym Thursday, some were actually alive the last time the school won a playoff game. Just not many.
Now all have seen a playoff win.
Trai Halton scored 21 points and Scottie James scored 15 of his 20 in the second half as Tarpon beat Hernando 70-60 for its first playoff win since 1947.
Tarpon had last hosted a postseason game in 1978.
"Phenomenal. I mean, 1947," said Jerry Woodka, Tarpon's coach of 18 years who had to sit down and gather himself after the victory.
The halftime sitdown won the game for Tarpon (27-3).
Hernando led 35-28 with help from a sizzling fastbreak cashing in on the Spongers' 10 straight missed shots. Tarpon changed to a box-in-one defense, guarding Hernando's leading scorer, Mark Wilson. Wilson scored one point in the quarter, going 0-for-5 from the field while the Leopards made only one of their first 14 shots.
On offense, Tarpon made six of its first eight shots, preventing Hernando from getting into its transition game.
"We didn't want (a win) to slip away from us," Halton said.
Halton's five points helped the Spongers even the game less than two minutes into the half and were part of an 18-1 run that put them up 46-36. Damarian Gulley had five of his team-high seven assists during the third.
Two late third-quarter baskets and a 3-pointer by Wilson to start the fourth got the Leopards to within 51-47.
But Halton and Mitch Wilcox keyed an 11-2 stretch that followed. Wilcox had a three-point play and finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.
Besides the 15 points, James had five blocks and 10 rebounds in the second half. He disrupted a Hernando layup attempt on one end then scored on the other for a 66-54 lead with 2:30 remaining.
"We definitely had to stop their fastbreak," James said. "We just came out and played hard in the second half."
Joel Wilson, a sophomore and Mark's brother, scored a team-high 21 points for the Leopards (16-6). Mark Wilson scored 18, and Ra'shaad Hart had seven rebounds.
Fourteen of Joel Wilson's points came in the first half as Hernando, which made its first postseason appearance in 10 seasons and whose only postseason win came in 1967, overcame an early 18-10 deficit.
Said coach Jeff Laing: "Couldn't be prouder of the guys."
Darek Sharp, Times correspondent