BROOKSVILLE – On the final day of the Nature Coast Christmas Tournament, the host Sharks failed to finish the 2015 portion of their boys basketball schedule on a high note.
Playing for third place in its bracket late Wednesday afternoon, Nature Coast’s typical ball movement and hot outside shooting got an early start on the long New Year’s weekend. Wesley Chapel took control in the first quarter and stayed in front the rest of the way, handing the Sharks a 42-35 defeat.
“Every game we’ve played against Wesley Chapel, I even told the guys, ‘It’s going to be a tough time to score.’ They’re always good defensively,” Nature Coast head coach Dave Pisarcik said. “We knew going into the game, we’d have to execute our stuff, we’d have to make shots.
“They harass you defensively and they make you make plays. We’ve just got to have enough playmakers to be able to win a game, and tonight we didn’t have enough playmakers to do that.”
Though the final margin suggests a close contest, it never truly felt that way. The Wildcats (14-3) maintained a 10-12-point lead for most of the second half.
Reggie Jennings scored 12 of Wesley Chapel’s 15 points in the opening quarter to help build a 15-10 advantage heading into the second period.
“We knew going in he was good,” Pisarick said. “He established himself in the game. He’s assertive and he dominated the game. That’s what good players are supposed to do.”
“He’s been our rock all year,” Wesley Chapel head coach Doug Greseth said. “He’s been our leading scorer and we’ve really depended on him as far as points go.”
Though the ‘Cats only combined for 16 points across the next two quarters, the Sharks (11-5) managed just six points in the second and three in the third, trailing 31-19 at the beginning of the fourth.
“You’ve got to give Wesley Chapel credit defensively,” Pisarcik said. “I think it’s a combination of them being really good defensively and they were taking way (guard Nick) Crima. They did a good job on Crima. When you do a good job on Crima, it’s tough for us to be able to execute our offense.”
After falling behind 41-27 on a Jennings’ putback around the two-minute mark, Nature Coast made a late run on back-to-back 3-pointers from Crima and Anthony Valante to cut the deficit to 41-35 with 42.8 seconds left.
But that’s as close as the Sharks would get, falling for the second day in a row following an overtime loss to Tampa-Gaither on Tuesday, 71-68. They beat Gulf Breeze on Monday, 55-32.
Jennings finished with 27 points to pace the ‘Cats, who ended up going 2-1 in the tournament.
“I think defense was the key tonight. I think we did a good job defensively. We did a much better job than we did last night (54-50 loss to Wiregrass Ranch),” Greseth said. “I think we were much more patient on the offensive end, getting a good shot every time down.
“We try and get a lot of ball pressure and get help. And we kind of knew who their shooters were, and I think we did a good job getting back in transition, making sure they didn’t get any threes in transition.”
Crima and Valante each wound up with nine points to pace the Sharks.
“We really don’t care about the wins and losses. We just want to gain the experience,” Pisarcik said. “If we gain the experience and it helps us win a district, then the tournament’s been a success. We have to be able to learn from this and not repeat the mistakes that put us in a situation where we’ve got to be uncomfortable.
“I’m happy with the way it went because we’re going to learn from it. If we don’t get better, we’re not going to be where we want to be at the end of the year.”
Hernando lost its final game on Wednesday to Gulf Breeze, 61-46. The Leopards (5-10) previously lost on Monday to Wesley Chapel, 56-41, and to Clearwater-Countryside on Tuesday, 58-55.
Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr