BY JOE CARLINO
HERNANDO SUN WRITER
Last week, the Nature Coast Sharks played host to their 6th-annual Christmas tournament, which sees some incredible talent come out to have some fun and get some more experience under their belt. Sharks head coach Dave Pisarcik continues to gain knowledge and tactics for future years, and always seems to get some incredible squads to participate, most notably the Alonso Ravens and Zephyrhills Bulldogs.
And like most other years, Pisarcik gets to play host to schools from outside the Florida area, giving some schools in the area a chance to understand how other states play basketball. To Pisarcik, being a former collegiate basketball player and All-American, the opportunity to see these players ahead of the college atmosphere can give experience which can only lead to benefits in the future.
Below is a recap of the tournament, one section for each bracket.
Bracket B: Sharks fall in championship
Coming into the “B” bracket of the tournament, the Sharks were undefeated and considered one of the two heavy favorites. The other was Wesley Chapel, who were also unbeaten prior to Wednesday’s beginning.
By the end, both squads would suffer their first loss; Nature Coast’s just came later than the Wildcats.
In this bracket, the Sharks would defeat the Jefferson Dragons, then beat the Armwood Hawks (who gave Wesley Chapel the loss) in the second round, but would falter to the Land O’ Lakes Gators in the championship, losing 51-42 in a battle that came down to the wire, but ultimately gave the visitors their second overall win of the tournament (they were champions in 2014).
The Gators made it to the final by beating Plant High in the first round and beating in-county opponent Zephyrhills in the semifinals.
In the championship, the Sharks shot a dismal 35% from the field (7 of 20) and only 23% from downtown (7 of 30). They were led by senior guard Robert Gomez, who had a team-high 15 points. On the other side, the Gators shot 26% from the field (5 of 19) but converted on 50% of their three-point attempts (10 of 20) and added 10 points from the free throw line. The Gators were led by the duo of Chase Farmer and Mekhi Perry, who combined for 31 points against the Sharks.
Bracket A: National team reigns supreme
In the other bracket of NCT’s tournament, which usually has the primo teams face off against one another, the two schools in the championship game both came from out-of-state: the Hughes Big Red from Cincinnati and the Wesley Christian Circuit Riders from Allen, Kentucky. Incidentally, both schools were also competing in Pisarcik’s tournament for the first time.
And in this game, the Circuit Riders, who play a national schedule and are ranked in the “Fab 50”, utilized their size, speed, and teamwork to prevent the squad from one state north from returning home with the trophy, winning 88-77.
To get to the final, Wesley Christian absolutely crushed the Sunlake Seahawks in the first round, and in the game of the entire tournament, went right down to the wire against Wharton and emerged with a 53-51 win. For Hughes, they defeated Clearwater 67-54 in the first round and Alonso in the semifinals by a score of 64-56.
For Wesley Christian, they shot 71% from the field (24 of 34) and 42% from downtown (5 of 12). What was critical towards their victory, however, was how many times the Circuit Riders got foul shots (43 attempts, 25 converted). On the other side, the Big Red shot 66% from the field (25 of 35) but converted only 20% of their threes (5 of 25).
One thing to keep an eye on from this bracket: keep an eye out for Paul McMillan, a player from Hughes. The point guard, a freshman, had arguably the greatest single-game performance in either bracket, going for 40 points in the championship game against a dominant national team. He will be a future star down the road and might have NBA-level talent.
For Hernando county schools, there are multiple tournaments teams are slated to participate in. For the Sharks, they will be taking part in the Carrollwood Sun Bash, which is slated to begin on January 2nd at Carrollwood Day High. For the Springstead Eagles, they are currently playing host to their annual New Year’s Day tournament, which also features the Central Bears. And for the Hernando Leopards, their girls team is currently hosting their holiday tournament, which features not only their girls, but the Sharks’ girls and local powerhouse Weeki Wachee. All told, these schools are not taking the holiday break lightly, because soon, it’ll be time for the real tournament: the FHSAA state championship tournament, where it’s win or go home.