Hernando County is hoops central over winter break

Nature Coast, Springstead and Hernando all are fielding tournaments after Christmas.
Senior guard Unique Torain has been huge for Springstead, averaging 20 points per game.
Senior guard Unique Torain has been huge for Springstead, averaging 20 points per game. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]
Published Dec. 26, 2019|Updated Dec. 26, 2019

BROOKSVILLE — For a rare time there will be no out-of-state boys basketball teams in the Nature Coast Christmas Tournament, but the Sharks have had no difficulty finding participants to join the packed field.

Wall-to-wall, as in 9:30 starts each morning, action begins today and — in a new twist — will culminate Sunday with the titles being decided. The notoriously well-run event will be split into separate brackets of eight teams each, the Sharks joined by three Pasco County teams, with all the North Suncoast participants opening against a Hillsborough County foe.

That was intentional.

“Christmas tournaments are all about playing different competition, and different levels of competition,” Nature Coast coach Dave Pisarcik said. “You don’t want to play a district opponent at Christmas time, so we tried to keep everybody away from each other.”

Related: Teams from far and wide flock to Seffner Christian’s holiday basketball tournament

Having said that, one bracket pits Sunlake and Land O’ Lakes against each other — but that actually suits the rivals as they’re not on each other’s regular-season schedule for the first time. Each of the Hillsborough County teams enter with just one win apiece, which could create all-North Suncoast semifinals should records hold.

The other bracket is loaded, with five undefeated teams, including Land O’ Lakes (7-0). Berkeley Prep improved to 8-0 with two victories in Tallahassee’s Capital City Classic, Armwood is 5-0, and both Riverview and Wharton enter the event 6-0. None of the eight teams in the bracket has lost more than two games.

Nature Coast has made the final each of the past three years but lost their top three scorers from last year’s state semifinal squad. Cai Teague has been leaned upon heavily for the Sharks (5-2).

Teague is averaging 18 points and eight rebounds per game, followed by Phil Scalise at 12 points. Guard Dedric Hall deals out eight assists along with eight points per night.

“We lost a lot, so we’ve been trying to find our niche a little bit,” Pisarcik said. “We’re just trying to get better and learn. The only guy who’d played significant minutes is Cai. Realistically, it doesn’t matter what goes on during the regular season. We’re just trying to get guys experience, learn our system and execute our system in big games.”

Nature Coast Tech coach David Pisarcik has organized one of the area's most respected holiday tournaments for a few years now.
Nature Coast Tech coach David Pisarcik has organized one of the area's most respected holiday tournaments for a few years now. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

He’s not concerned with the execution of the tournament, in its sixth year. Pisarcik heralds the support of his administration and the volunteers, who help the games move along effortlessly.

“We always get compliments on how much support we get, and how well run the tournament is, not to jinx anything,” he said. “Our tournaments have been running smooth for the last six years, and that’s why we get everybody coming back.”

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The finals are Sunday at 6:30 and 8. Getting back there won’t be easy for the Sharks.

“It’s a rebuilding year but I’ve enjoyed it. It’s actually been fun,” Pisarcik said. “A challenge, but we’re accepting it, we like it, and we’re going to to go and prove no matter how many guys we lose, we’re still going to be a contender.”

His rebuilding task can be appreciated by rival Springstead, who will conduct its fifth Annual Greg O’ Connell Shootout starting New Year’s Day. After a down season by their standards, the Eagles are humming along at 8-1, including a win over Nature Coast.

Related: Strong first half paces Springstead vs. county rival Nature Coast

The highlight came last Friday, when Springstead — trailing 45-26 after three quarters — surpassed its previous input with 31 in the fourth to give Central its first loss of the season, 57-54. Unique Torain has been tremendous for the Eagles, the dynamic senior pouring in 20 points per game, including 27 against the Bears.

In the Eagles’ eight-team field, it just so happens Central (10-1) and Springstead are on opposite sides of the bracket setting up a potential rematch in the final.

Last year saw the Eagles drop to a .500 team after winning district at 19-9 the prior year. It prompted coach Matthew McGarry to make a move that is paying off this year, namely calling up Saquan Carswell from the junior varsity. He wanted to make it an actual twin move, but Carswell’s brother Jaquan passed, as both figured they wouldn’t get much playing time. Saquan also “wasn’t very keen” on the idea but ended up accepting.

“When the year started a little slower, I figured let me pull up some of these kids from JV to see if we could still salvage a competitive season,” McGarry said. “Saquan was averaging 25 and 12; if you’re going to do that, might as well play on the varsity. He started contributing right away and by the end of the year was starting. He’s a little bit ahead of his brother right now based on that experience. They got game.”

Sure enough Saquan averages 11.7 points, second on the team, just about double Jaquan’s average.

McGarry could have scheduled an easily winnable first contest, but went with fellow one-loss Brooks DeBartolo.

“I would at least like to win the opening night, but we got Brooks DeBartalo. There’s no easy draw,” he said. “… It’s going to be very tough to make it to the final day undefeated, but that’s the goal. The expectation is to win, and that’s what we’re going for.”

Nature Coast Christmas Tournament

Bracket I

Friday: Sunlake vs. Land O’Lakes, 2:30; Lakeland George Jenkins vs. Riverview, 3:30; Crystal River vs. Wharton, 6:30; Berkeley Prep vs. Armwood, 8

Saturday: Semifinals, 6:30 and 8 p.m.; loser’s bracket games, 12:30 and 2 p.m.

Sunday: Final, 8 p.m.; consolation games, 11 a.m., 2 and 5

Bracket II

Friday: Jefferson vs. Zephyrhills, 9:30 a.m.; Wesley Chapel vs. Plant City, 11; Alonso vs. Fivay, 12:30; Freedom vs. Nature Coast, 5

Saturday: Semifinals, 3:30 and 5 p.m.; loser’s bracket games, 9:30 and 11 a.m.

Sunday: Final, 6:30 p.m.; consolation games, 9:30 a.m., 12:30 and 3:30

Greg O’Connell New Year’s Shootout

Location: Springstead High

Jan. 1: Trinity Catholic vs. Gulf, 3; Wesley Chapel vs. Central, 4:30; Grace Baptist vs. Anclote, 6; Brooks DeBartolo vs. Springstead, 7:30

Jan. 2: Semifinals, 6 and 7:30 p.m.; loser’s bracket games, 3 and 4:30

Jan. 3: Final, 7:30; consolation games, 3, 4:30 and 6

Hernando Holiday Classic

Location: Hernando High School


Jan. 2: Weeki Wachee vs. Wesley Chapel, 9; South Sumter vs. Gaither, noon; Lennard vs. Eustis, 3; Hernando vs. Gulf, 6.

Jan. 3: Semifinals, 3 and 6; loser’s bracket games, 9 a.m. and noon

Jan. 4: Final, 6; consolation games, 9 a.m., noon and 3


Jan. 2: Lennard vs. Weeki Wachee, 10:30 a.m.; Nature Coast vs. Bloomingdale, 1:30; Leto vs. Sunlake, 4:30; Hernando vs. Brandon Academy, 7:30

Jan. 3: Semifinals, 4:30 and 7:30; loser’s bracket games, 10:30 a.m. and 1:30

Jan. 4: Final, 7:30 p.m.; consolation games, 10:30 a.m., 1:30, 4:30