BROOKSVILLE — The field of the Nature Coast Christmas Tournament turned out to be very deep, evidenced by some solid first-round contests.
The host Sharks headed up the winners on Friday’s first day, pulling away to defeat Steinbrenner convincingly, 79-66.
Nature Coast (11-1) had a couple of breakout performances. Despite playing without leading rebounder Rohan Blackwood, still away for the holiday break, the Sharks outrebounded the Warriors 54-22.
“Our front line needs to be aggressive for us to be as good as we can be,” Nature Coast coach David Pisarcik said. “I’m really happy with the way the big guys played.”
Cody Bergantino, the younger brother of former Nature Coast standout and current UMass forward Tyler Bergantino, achieved career highs in points (14) and rebounds (16) to head up the effort.
Steinbrenner (3-10) leaned heavily on leading scorer Keshawn Ingram, but as the senior guard tired in the second half, the Warriors fell off the pace. Ingram scored 35 but was matched nearly shot for shot by Nature Coast guard Carlos Clemente (career-best 30 points, seven rebounds).
The Sharks advanced to Saturday’s semifinals against Orlando Jones. The Tigers easily advanced past Weeki Wachee 77-32. The Hornets (0-11) were without Tyler Wiley (20 points per game), also still on break. Jones (7-7) capitalized with three players in double figures and all 12 getting into the scoring column.
In the early semifinal, Brooks-DeBartolo (9-3) will meet Tarpon Springs (12-2). The Phoenix, without three top players for various reasons, defeated Springstead 69-55 in the opener.
The Spongers had their hands full. Jefferson (13-4) was very cold from the field, and though the Tigers pushed Tarpon to the brink, the inability to score eventually led to a 55-49 win for the Spongers, who got a great performance from Scottie James (24 points, 15 rebounds).
“We hit some good shots inside and handled their man-pressure defense well,” Spongers coach Jerry Woodka said. “It’s always a lot of Scottie, but Jefferson double-teamed the ball. We responded well and all five got involved.”