With three senior starters and four more on the bench, Nature Coast entered its Class 4A, District 8 championship showdown with Gulf on Saturday realizing this year might be its last good shot at making a playoff run.
"That's how I feel," coach Travis Lamle said, "and there's some of the kids who feel the same way."
Nature Coast played like it, using a frenetic defense to secure a 47-36 win and a home game in the first round of regionals.
Though Gulf rallied late, starting the fourth quarter on a 13-4 run, the Sharks were in control from the opening tip.
Junior Shareka Maner scored nine of her 11 points in the first two quarters as the Sharks cruised to a 23-9 halftime lead.
Nature Coast succeeded both at putting pressure on Gulf freshman point guard Nicole Adams and taking senior long-range shooter Jordan Schulman out of the game. Schulman scored just three points in the first half and 11 total.
"They do a real good job in their pressure forcing you out of what you do," Gulf coach Mike Quarto said.
Nature Coast (22-5), which hasn't lost a district game in more than two seasons, swept Gulf during the regular season. The Sharks have won 10 straight games heading into next week's region quarterfinals, which they'll host. Gulf (16-7), meanwhile, will play on the road.
The Bucs trailed by double digits most of the first three quarters, but rallied in the fourth. Martisha Jones hit a 3-pointer with 5:02 remaining to cut Nature Coast's lead to 38-30, but Gulf couldn't get any closer. Adams led the Buccaneers with 12 points.
Nature Coast senior Cherikhan Waddy, playing with a noticeable limp after spraining her ankle in the first half, led all scorers with 15 points.