BROOKSVILLE — With first place in Class 5A, District 7 on the line, Wesley Chapel seemingly had Nature Coast right where it wanted it Tuesday night.
While the Wildcats had gone 9-1 since losing to Nature Coast in mid-December, the Sharks suffered all six of their losses in that span. It looked as if the four-time defending district champions were ripe for the picking.
Instead, the Sharks completed a season sweep of Wesley Chapel with a 38-32 victory.
“We’ve won our share of games the past few weeks, but we haven’t played championship basketball,” Nature Coast coach David Pisarcik said. “The kids are starting to understand what it’s going to take to win these types of games.”
The Wildcats (17-3, 7-2) jumped out to an 18-9 lead in the first quarter with Nature Coast (17-6, 9-1) struggling offensively. The backcourt pressure applied to sharpshooter Carlos Clemente was working — temporarily.
Clemente’s 3-pointer as the first quarter drew to a close kicked off a 12-0 run to put the Sharks up at halftime. The senior guard finished with 17 points, including five 3s, but fellow guard Jordan Burkes served as a spark plug for Nature Coast on both ends of the court.
A Tampa Catholic transfer, Burkes (seven points, seven rebounds, four assists, four steals) has been the best individual defender for much of the year. Wesley Chapel’s leading scorer, Carson Emery, made his first and only field goal with 3:46 remaining in regulation, a far cry from his usual 14 points per game.
“I always try to go for the steal because it’s a huge momentum turn,” Burkes said. “When we are losing our flow, it’s important to find a way to get that momentum back.”
Another huge advantage came down low. Nature Coast came away with a 35-16 advantage on the boards with Cody Bergantino (four points, 11 rebounds) leading the way. Darius Jones added six points and eight rebounds.