Tarpon Springs has already knocked off Nature Coast in one tournament. On Tuesday, the Sharks hope to keep the Spongers from doing it again.
Nature Coast (21-7) host Tarpon Springs (27-3) in a boys basketball Class 5A, Region II semifinal at 7 p.m.
It's a rematch of the Dec. 30 finale of the Nature Coast Christmas Tournament, won by the Spongers, 53-50.
"I definitely think playing them early in the season helps us in this game," Nature Coast head coach Dave Pisarcik said. "We have a feeling about what they'll try to do against us and how we can limit their opportunities and come up with a game plan to negate what they want to do.
"Tarpon is a good team. They've got plenty of players that can hurt you. They're definitely a tough team to prepare for."
The Sharks know this stage well; this is their fifth straight trip to the Sweet 16. They had won the first three times before stumbling against Eustis last year.
Conversely, the Spongers are very much in uncharted territory. Their 70-60 triumph over Hernando on Thursday was their first in regionals since 1947.
They've actually been in the Sweet 16 more recently, in 1978 when the postseason featured a shorter format. However, they haven't gotten past this point since 1950.
Not that history will help Nature Coast turn the tables following that pre-New Year's loss.
That game essentially came down to the second quarter. Tarpon Springs outscored the Sharks in the period, 19-9, and took a 35-24 edge into the halftime locker room before staving off a late comeback.
The Spongers were able to shut down sharp-shooting guard Carlos Clemente, limiting him to eight points after he had 30 and 32 respectively in the previous two tournament tilts.
Guard Jordan Burkes had 19 points to pace Nature Coast, but tournament MVP Scottie James tallied 18 points and 16 rebounds, while Trai Halton added 15 points and four steals, and Mitch Wilcox 12 points and six boards.
Tarpon Springs won the rebounding battle, 31-26, and only turned the ball over eight times compared to 26 by the Sharks.
Nature Coast played without senior power forward Rohan Blackwood during that tournament. The Sharks have gone 10-0 when the two-time All-County selection has played this season, as his size, strength and athleticism has provided more balance.
"Hopefully we can make more shots," said Pisarcik, whose team shot 35 percent from the field in that December contest. "Carlos didn't have one of his better games. They did a good job of taking him away.
"Having Rohan and having him in the game; hopefully if they want to key on Carlos so much, Rohan, Burkes, Cody (Bergantino) and Andrew Parker will have more opportunities. I think having Rohan opens up the floor a little more."
The Spongers have injected another key player into the mix, as well. Junior Damarian Gulley has appeared in the last six games and is averaging 12.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.2 steals.
The 6-foot-4 junior James puts up 17.7 points, 12.2 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 1.2 steals, and has outside touch hitting on 35 3-pointers. He had 20 points, 14 boards and eight blocks against Hernando.
Halton, a junior guard, averages 17.3 points, 3.8 assists and 4.3 steals, and has knocked down 66 shots from beyond the arc. Wilcox, another 6-foot-4 junior, chips in 10.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.7 steals.
"They have so many guys who can score, so many ways they can beat you," Pisarcik said. "We've just got to try to eliminate some of their opportunities. They're a tough team. They'll be one of our toughest tests all year."
If Nature Coast can pull out a win, it'll travel to the winner between Citrus and Gainesville-Eastside in Tuesday's other semifinal, for Saturday's final at 7 p.m.
Pisarcik, though, said the Sharks haven't had time to consider the accomplishment of returning to the Elite Eight. All their focus is on beating the Spongers.
"We'll definitely be aware of Scottie James and Trai Halton, and try to limit (Halton's) penetration and keep the ball out of his hands," Pisarcik said. "When you try to take him away, they can beat you in other ways. We'll try to play tough, physical basketball and match their intensity."
At a Glance
What - Class 5A, Region II semifinal
Who - Tarpon Springs Spongers (27-3, 5A-8 champions) at Nature Coast Sharks (21-7, 5A-7 champions)
Where - Nature Coast's gym
When - Tuesday at 7 p.m.
At Stake - Winner will meet Citrus/Gainesville-Eastside winner in Saturday's 5A-II final.