BROOKSVILLE - A smile spread across Dave Pisarcik's face as he admitted his previous assertion wasn't exactly the truth.
Prior to his Nature Coast squad hosting Gulf in a Class 5A, Region II quarterfinal Thursday night, he claimed it was just another game.
Of course, his counterpart on the Buccaneers' bench, Travis Priddy, happened to be the guy he played for in college, then coached under and eventually replaced with the Sharks.
So yeah, when his team claimed a 56-43 victory, securing their fifth consecutive trip to the Sweet 16, it might have a tad more meaning to the Nature Coast headman.
"Obviously, Coach Priddy has been a big part of my career," Pisarcik said. "He coached me in college. He got me started here. A lot of the things we do are some of the things he's installed.
"He's definitely still a part of my coaching style. I definitely didn't want to come out and lose the game tonight. You talk about all week long that it's just another game, but really it's not just another game."
Though Pisarcik going up against his predecessor and mentor Priddy was a unique storyline, the players on the court certainly had a say in the outcome.
The Sharks (21-7) uncharacteristically struggled shooting the ball - they surprisingly did not hit on a single 3-pointer - yet their stifling defense and transition game more than made up the difference.
Gulf (16-12) hung around for roughly two and a half quarters, leading 11-10 after one period and trailing 24-19 at the half.
The Buccaneers pulled closer in the third before Nature Coast finally began to open things up.
At one point in the fourth the Sharks had gained a 45-31 advantage, forcing Gulf to continually put them on the foul line over the final three minutes.
"Their guards were more physical, quicker, stronger, faster, and that hurt us when they broke down the defense," Priddy said. "We talked about coming in we can't get them in transition and you can't let them get second-chance points, and that was the story of the second half."
Though sharp-shooting Carlos Clemente went without knocking down a shot from beyond the arc, he went 10-of-12 from the charity stripe and finished with 20 points.
That was part of a very balanced Shark effort, primarily by the five starters and Darius Jones, who had a solid seven points, seven rebounds and a block off the bench.
"When the game got close, we had a sense of urgency. We knew we had to get the ball where it needed to go, and guys made shots and then we started to finish," Pisarcik said. "I credit our seniors. Our seniors came out and they played well. They all played their roll to the best of their abilities tonight. I'm proud of those guys.
"Right now it's just a team game. That's what great teams can do toward this time of the season. Like I always say, our season starts now. All that stuff that we do in the regular season and the district is to prepare us for this season right now."
Nature Coast limited Gulf's leading scorer, James Grubbs, early on, holding him to two points in the first half. He did manage to finish with a team-high 14.
The task of guarding him largely went to Cody Bergantino, who added 11 points and eight rebounds.
"I went defense first," Bergantino said. "Grubb is a huge matchup, he averages like 21 points a game, 10 rebounds, and he's a dominant big man. That was my focus throughout the whole game, strictly on defense.
"And then my teammates started hitting shots, opening up room for me so I could score, and then we all just came together as a team."
Another of the Bucs' top offensive threats, guard Joey Nickerson, didn't score until a shot at the final horn. Pisarcik gave much of the credit to Jordan Burkes for locking him down.
About the only Gulf player who Nature Coast couldn't solve was Andre Wilson, who tallied 13 points, 13 rebounds and three steals.
Rohan Blackwood paced a 34-23 rebounding edge for the Sharks, pulling down 11 boards.
Now Nature Coast will host a semifinal Tuesday at 7 p.m. against Tarpon Springs. The Spongers, who defeated Hernando on Thursday, 70-60, defeated the Sharks in the final of Nature Coast Christmas Tournament, 53-50.
However, Blackwood did not play that night, part of the 18-game stretch he missed while securing the football scholarship he received from USF. The Sharks are 10-0 with him in action.
As for Priddy, who was head coach at Nature Coast for three seasons from 2004-07 before moving on to a job in Georgia and eventually Tampa-Freedom prior to arriving at Gulf last season, it was a "little strange" homecoming.
"It was nice to see some people again," Priddy said. "You're kind of happy to see some people. By the same token, it's not fun to have to play against your old assistant coach knowing one of you is going to end up going home. Dave does a great job here."
Nature Coast 56, Gulf 43
Qtr. Scoring 1 2 3 4
GUL 11 8 10 14 - 43
NCT 10 14 12 20 - 56
Gulf (43): Hollenbeck 2 0-0 5, Grubb 6 2-3 14, Wilson 5 3-8 13, Hopkins 0 0-1 0, Nickerson 1 0-0 2, Spijodic 2 3-4 9, Atkinson 0, Corbett 0. Totals 16 8-16 43.
Nature Coast (56): Clemente 5 10-12 20, Bergantino 4 3-4 11, Blackwood 3 0-0 6, Parker 1 2-5 4, Burkes 4 0-0 8, Da. Jones 3 1-2 7, Crima 0, Doherty 0, Thomas 0. Totals 20 16-23 56.
Three-point field goals: GUL 3 (Spijodic 2, Hollenbeck); NCT 0.
Total fouls: GUL 19; NCT 19.
Technical fouls: none.
Fouled out: Grubb (GUL), Blackwood (NCT).
Records: Gulf (16-12), Nature Coast (21-7).
Class 5A, Region II
Nature Coast 56, Gulf 43
Tarpon Springs 70, Hernando 60
Citrus 64, Ocala-Lake Weir 55
Gainesville-Eastside 69, Dunnellon 57
Tarpon Springs at Nature Coast, 7 p.m.
Citrus at Eastside, 7 p.m.
Final, 7 p.m.