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NEW PORT RICHEY - Mike Quarto doesn't think Nature Coast is invincible.
"To beat them," the Gulf coach said of the Sharks, who went undefeated in Class 4A, District 8 last season and return four of five starters, "you're going to have to limit your turnovers and not let them get offensive rebounds."
In a matchup between the top two teams in 4A-8 on Thursday, Gulf did neither.
Nature Coast outrebounded the Buccaneers on the offensive glass, forced 27 turnovers and got just enough scoring from its backcourt to pull out a 50-45 victory.
Taking full advantage of its size in the frontcourt, the Sharks never trailed, holding a lead for more than 31 of the game's 32 minutes.
Nature Coast appeared to be on the verge of pulling away late in the first quarter when Lauren Wajerski hit Alyssa Joens for an easy layup that gave the Sharks a 15-6 lead. But Gulf ended the period on a run, getting a 3-pointer from Jordan Schulman with 10 seconds left to cut its deficit to 17-15.
"We knew Jordan was a good shooter," said Wajerski, who scored 12. "So we always had to be aware of where she was going."
Schulman finished with 15 points.
Nature Coast (8-0, 6-0) took a 34-23 lead when Shareka Maner hit a layup and a free throw with 2:49 left in the third quarter. But Gulf battled back, ending the quarter on a 6-1 run.
The Bucs (6-2, 5-2) trailed 41-37 midway through the fourth quarter but would get no closer.
Gulf held Maner to eight points and seven rebounds, but frontcourt teammate April Trezise grabbed six offensive rebounds and scored seven.