BROOKSVILLE, Fla.- Hosting one of the many winter holiday tournaments that take place around the Sunshine State can be a rewarding experience for the host school.
Especially if you get to play in the championship final of your tournament as well. Nature Coast reached the 'B' bracket championship game of the Nature Coast Basketball Christmas Tournament against Sebring on Thursday night. Hoping to add a trophy to the hardware case, the Blue Streaks had other ideas for the host team.
Instead, Sebring will be bringing home the championship trophy as they were able to defeat Nature Coast 44-32 in the 'B' bracket championship final. Making the Bracket B All-Tournament team for Sebring was Damian Martinez, Sylvester Lewis and Dyveon Collymore, who was named the Most Valuable Player.
"We were just trying to pickup the defensive intensity," Sebring head coach Princeton Harris said. "That's what we are trying to build here. Just being able to play good, hard defense. Lock down defense and they were able to do that at points and at other times we gave up some points."
In the opening quarter, it was all Blue Streaks to start things off. Sebring rushed out to a quick 10-0 lead before Nature Coast was able to get any points up on the board. At one point in the quarter, the Sharks trailed 16-4 and looked potentially overmatched.
The Sharks crept their way back into the game got to within 20-16 in the second quarter, before the two teams went into halftime. The matchup that gathered a lot of intensity throughout the game was between Gregory and Nature Coast's Luke Sanders. Gregory was tasked with guarding Sanders and held him to 11 points on the night.
"Coach (Harris) told me at the beginning of the game to lock No. 3 up in full court press and get him tired," Gregory said. "(Luke Sanders) is a good kid. Good bucket. We wanted it more at the end of the day. We came in here knowing we can get far in the tournament and we came in here, thought we were going to win and that's what we did."
It was the defense of Gregory on Sanders and also relying on strong play in the painted area by 6-foot-9 center Sylvester Lewis as well. Lewis was a force in the middle, misdirecting a lot of Nature Coast shots throughout the game.
With the game still just a six-point margin in the fourth quarter, multiple buckets by Gregory in the final few minutes helped push Sebring's advantage double digits. Now Harris and the Blue Streaks will bring a title back to Highlands County.
"When you've got a kid 6-foot-9, you've got to utilize him," Harris added. "He prevents people from coming inside and we did a great job on No. 3. They just played very good defense and that's all I can ask for and they did it."
Sanders, Canyon Anderson made the All-Tournament team for Nature Coast along with Woody Machado (Alonso), Kyler Lamb (Williston), Greg Maxwell (Williston), Landon Allen (River Ridge), Kenneth McCullough (Zephyrhills), Joe Stosh (Zephyrhills), Jordan Massey (Land O' Lakes), Enrique Batista (Largo), Lee Jones Jr. (Sunlake) and Isaiah Newton (Cape Coral).
Andy Villamarzo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @Andy_Villamarzo.