WESLEY CHAPEL — Eric Williams kept his words simple, his sentences short.
His interviews are a stark contrast to the way Wiregrass Ranch's talented center battles wildly in the paint, often dominating all challengers thanks to 6-foot-9 height advantage.
Faced with the daunting task Tuesday of battling the Nature Coast frontcourt duo of Tyler Bergantino and Adam Smith, Bulls coach Jeremy Calzone had an idea.
"We told Eric, 'I don't think they're going to respect your jump shot tonight,' " Calzone said. " 'Why don't you get some jump shots early.' … Eric Williams stepped up."
Williams nailed his first three jump shots and set the tone in a key 37-32 victory. The win throws the top portion of Class 4A, District 8 into chaos with Wiregrass, Nature Coast and Lecanto vying for the top seed.
Sharks coach Dave Pisarcik said grabbing the No. 1 seed "means everything" because the top three teams hope to find an easy path to the tournament final and a guaranteed playoff berth.
"If it comes down to a coin toss … we'll pray," Pisarcik said.
Nature Coast (13-2) played without starting guard Donovan Ingram, who missed school with an illness, Pisarcik said. The Sharks coach also said Ingram was in a minor car accident during winter break, which had nothing to do with his absence. Pisarcik would not say when he expects Ingram back.
"That's a big impact," Pisarcik said. "He's a spark plug. He handles the ball well for us. But that's here nor there. We have to play with the guys who are here. Give Wiregrass credit. They outhustled us and outplayed us."
Another factor was the unexpected benching of Smith, the Sharks' leading scorer. He played sparingly, missing most of the second half. Pisarcik would not specify why Smith played so little. Smith said he did not have an injury and dismissed his problems to having a "bad night."
Nature Coast was stymied for most of the first half by Wiregrass' tremendous halfcourt zone defense. The Sharks were held to one field goal in the first 16 minutes and trailed 17-4 at the break.
"To me, I thought our halfcourt defense was the best it's ever been in my four years here," Calzone said. "When you have a Division I kid in (Bergantino) and you hold him to two points at the half and just three touches, that's incredible."
Williams led all scorers with 19 points and Bulls teammate Tanner Carey chipped in with 10. Bergantino and Blake Lowman led the Sharks with nine points each. Smith scored four.
Despite all its misfortune, Nature Coast pulled within two with 21 seconds left on a Lowman 3-pointer. But Wiregrass (11-5) scored the final three points.
"The newspapers hype Nature Coast as the best team," Williams said. "We wanted to show we're the best."
Izzy Gould can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 421-3886.