ZEPHYRHILLS — One locker room rumbled with enthusiasm.
Voices echoed with pride. Just a few steps away, another locker room was silent.
While Nature Coast doused its head coach with cups of water, Wiregrass Ranch listened to its coach give one final speech.
The Class 4A, District 8 semifinal proved rewarding and cruel after Nature Coast's 57-52 win over Wiregrass Ranch. The third-seeded Sharks advance to tonight's final, facing top seed Lecanto, a 69-67 overtime winners against fourth-seeded Zephyrhills.
The Bulls (21-6), which entered with a 12-game win streak and had not lost since December, were knocked out.
"We thought we were the best team in the district, it didn't matter who we played," Bulls coach Jeremy Calzone said. "…I feel like I'm in the Twilight Zone right now. I just didn't think this was going to happen."
The critical run for Nature Coast (24-3) began in the final two minutes of the first quarter. It was sparked by a two-handed dunk from Sharks sophomore Tyler Bergantino to pull the team within one.
When it was over, Nature Coast had outscored the Bulls 16-3 to take a 25-15 lead midway through the second quarter.
"We just made a few adjustments," Nature Coast coach Dave Pisarcik said. "…We did a great job."
The Sharks led by as many as 11 and never let the lead slip below three. They were led by Bergantino and Adam Smith, each with 16 points.
Bulls senior Eric Williams led all scorers with 20 in his final high school game.
"Talk about what that kid means to this program and what he's done for Wiregrass Ranch," Calzone said. "It's not me, it's not coaching, it's Eric Williams."
In the other semifinal, Zephyrhills (14-11) fought back from a nine-point halftime deficit to go up by as many as seven in the fourth quarter. Kyle Farrell, who led the Bulldogs with 30 points, hit two free throws for a 60-53 lead with 49 seconds left. Lecanto (20-4) scored six points in a 16-second span to tie the score at 64 with 3.3 seconds remaining to force overtime.
Panthers senior Cortney Sawyer hit a buzzer beater in the lane for a 69-67 victory.
"I couldn't ask any more of our kids," Bulldogs coach Alan Reed said. "We just had a couple in-bound plays that weren't thrown to the right place. That was the difference in the game."
Izzy Gould can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 421-3886.