BROOKSVILLE - It was a physical, grind-it-out type of game at Hernando High Wednesday night.
Fortunately for the visiting Lady Sharks and center Rita Jarque, it played right into their wheelhouse.
Nature Coast registered its second win of the season over the county and Class 5A, District 7 rival Lady Leopards, 46-34.
The junior Jarque, who came in averaging well over a double-double, had a near triple-double, totaling 18 points, 20 rebounds and eight steals.
"I just kept my composure because I was frustrated at the start," Jarque said. "But I just kept my composure and just kept my head in the game and didn't let them overcome me.
"It was a pretty big win. Last year we didn't beat them. This year beating them on their own floor was a very big win, we are actually proud of ourselves."
The Lady Sharks (11-2 overall, 8-1 5A-7) had already defeated Hernando (8-4 overall, 5-3 5A-7) on Nov. 22, 67-39.
Last season was a much different story, as the Lady Leopards downed Nature Coast three times, including once in the Hernando Holiday Classic.
"We're not a team that's going to beat you up, but if a team's going to play physical with us - and they do - we've got to respond to that. We can't let people come in and push us around," Hernando head coach Kevin Bittinger said.
"Credit them, they were frustrated, they regrouped, they came back and they beat us. They just flat-out beat us."
The Lady Sharks were without point guard Fatima Jones, who suffered a concussion the night before against Central.
It was a low-scoring affair from the start, yet Nature Coast managed to open up a 22-13 lead at the 5:15 mark of the second quarter on a 3-pointer by Emmalee Harris.
Hernando would cut that deficit to two, 24-22, on a basket by Arianna Tankersley, but Harris fueled a 6-0 run to end the half.
First she banked in a shot from beyond the arc, then added a free throw before stealing the ball and finding Mirandas Jones for a layup right before the horn to make it 30-22.
"The last two games, (Harris) has really stepped up and kind of taken over for Fatima a little bit," Nature Coast head coach Emily Gore said. "Done some ball-handling, run our offense a little bit. She's looking for her shot, too, and she's hit some big shots for us."
Jarque accounted for 12 of her team's 16 points over the final two quarters as the Lady Sharks kept Hernando at arm's length the rest of the way.
"We were struggling offensively to make some easy baskets. I think that generated some frustration on our part, but we were able to win it with our defense," Gore said.
"(Jarque) was definitely struggling in the first half. She was frustrated. I ask her to step up. Obviously with Fatima being out, she's our next person to step up and lead our team. We knew if we could get her going around the rim, we'd be OK."
Harris added 11 points, five rebounds and two steals.
Tankersley led the Lady Leopards with 10 points, five rebounds and three steals. Tyshea McRae chipped in 11 rebounds and TaShara Owens had five steals.
Bittinger lamented that his squad simply didn't come ready to play.
"They tend to blow this game up bigger than what it is. It's just still a girls high school basketball game. And because it's Nature Coast, we change a lot of the things we do, and we don't change it for the positive, we change it to the negative.
"That's something that we've got to work on because we feel as though we can compete in this district and this is a team that we're going to have to possibly beat to get into a district championship. So we better figure that out."
Nature Coast 46, Hernando 34
Qtr. Scoring 1 2 3 4
NCT 13 17 8 8 - 46
HER 11 11 8 4 - 34
Nature Coast (46): Harris 4 1-2 11, Liles 2 0-0 5, Jarque 8 2-3 18, M. Jones 2 2-4 6, Sesler 1 0-0 2, Jarman 2 0-2 4, Williams 0, Eberts 0, Tyson 0, Garcia 0. Totals 19 5-11 46.
Hernando (34): Mathis 3 1-4 8, Tankersley 4 2-4 10, McRae 0 3-4 3, Owens 0 0-3 0, Harvey 3 0-0 8, Brady 1 1-3 3, Hudson 1 0-2 2, Laing 0, Collier 0, Revell 0. Totals 12 7-20 34.
Three-point field goals: NCT 3 (Harris 2, Liles); HER 3 (Harvey 2, Mathis).
Total fouls: NCT 18; HER 15.
Technical fouls: Harris (NCT).
Fouled out: Sesler (NCT).
Records: Nature Coast (11-2 overall, 8-1 5A-7), Hernando (8-4 overall, 5-3 5A-7).