Suffice to say, Springstead’s softball team’s road to a repeat district championship hit a significant speed bump halfway through Thursday night’s Class 6A, District 6 final.
Host Crystal River had shown it could stand up to the once top-ranked Lady Eagles a few weeks earlier, holding on for a 2-1 win at Springstead’s home field on April 4.
This time around, the Lady Pirates built a 4-0 advantage through the top of the fourth, but couldn’t stave off the top seed, who rallied to tie it up twice and eventually pulled out a 7-6 victory in eight innings.
“It’s always nice to win one. It validates the hard work the girls put in, so that’s always a good thing,” Springstead head coach Craig Swartout said. “We just had to persevere and chip away and we were able to get them late.
“I think it’s only going to help us. We were down 4-0 and a lot teams would have packed it in at that point. We responded to the challenge and that’s pretty nice to see.”
A couple of throwing errors in the top of the first inning allowed the Lady Pirates (20-5) to very quickly get out in front, 2-0. Alyssa Hamilton drove in one on a single in the third, and hit a misplayed grounder to account for the fourth run in the fourth.
Yet the Lady Eagles (23-4) came back with four runs in the bottom of the fourth, on a Kama Woodall two-run home run and Jenna Ryan’s two-run triple.
Kaylie Winebrenner’s double for a run batted in gave the lead back to Crystal River in the fifth, then back-to-back doubles by Woodall and Paige Pfent brought two around for a 6-5 advantage. Jaden Vickers singled home the tying run for the Lady Pirates in the sixth, and the game eventually went into extra innings.
Ryan and Audrey Selby singled to lead off the bottom of the eighth, and remained on base when Pfent stepped into the box with two outs. The junior catcher went the other way for a single to right, delivering the walk-off triumph.
Springstead will now host Groveland-South Lake in Wednesday’s regional final starting at 7 p.m.
“We haven’t really faced adversity like that. The response was important. It showed a lot of character, a lot of heart,” Swartout said. “Our expectations are we want to win it. We’ve got a difficult road ahead of us, but it’s not something I don’t think we can handle. There are good teams in our region. We’ll take it one game at a time and build and build and build, and hope that will be enough.”
On Tuesday, the Lady Eagles advanced to the final thanks a 6-0 triumph over fifth-seeded Lecanto. Woodall, who hit a two-run homer in the first inning, threw a no-hitter, her only blemish being a hit batter. She struck out 13, and was also aided by two RBI singles off the bat of Ryan.
“I was just hitting the plate, I was getting a lot of strikes,” Woodall said. “And that’s what we came out here to do, just get the job done.
“The home run, I’ve just been seeing the ball really well and I’m trying to connect with the pitch. So I wasn’t going for one, but I got it. And the lead was really important because you have to establish your dominance when you get in the game as early as possible.”
Third-seeded Dunnellon knocked out sixth-seeded Weeki Wachee on Monday, 13-3.
Though Hernando ended up defeating host and top seed Nature Coast in the 5A-7 final on Thursday, the second-seeded Lady Leopards (19-9) first had to beat Fivay on Monday, 15-0, and Hudson on Wednesday, 10-0.
Karli Kimbrough went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and three RBI in the first game, while Taliyah Dowell went 3-for-3 with a homer, three runs and two RBI. Ali Shenefield pitched a four-inning no-hitter, walking one and striking out 10.
Ali Bronson had a home run in a 2-for-3 night in the semifinal, tallying two RBI. Shenefield threw five shutout frames, permitting two hits and a walk with eight strikeouts.
Nature Coast (19-8) bested Gulf in Wednesday’s semis, 12-2, behind two doubles and three RBI by Celine Kordon. Abbey Primavera gave up two unearned runs on two hits and fanned six over five innings. Gulf had slipped past Central on Tuesday, 8-7 in nine innings.
In the Class 2A, Region 2 Meet on Thursday at Orlando-Lake Highland Prep, several local athletes qualified for states with a top-four finish. Hernando’s Isaac Fields ran a second-place 40.52 in the 300-meter hurdles. Mariah Knieriem took third in the high jump (4-11 3/4). Also, the Leopards’ 4x400 of Hunter Davis, Jeremiah Vargas, Ross Stalcup and Fields finished fourth in 3:31.80.
Nature Coast’s Jouie Miller posted a 34-0 toss in the girls shot put, good enough for second, and Crystal Ortiz came in third in the girls discus (107-1). Weeki Wachee’s Seytia Hill came in second in the girls discus (107-11) and Diante Thomas placed fourth in the boys triple jump (41-9 3/4).
The Nature Coast girls tennis team participated in the 2A FHSAA Finals on Thursday at Red Bug Lake Park in Casselberry, losing 4-0 in the first round to Ponte Vedra.
Angela Cabahug and Nicole Remedio fell to Olivia Talbert and Alyssa Hensley at No. 1 doubles, 6-1, 6-1, and Sierra Remondelli and Mackenzie Vraspir lost at No. 2 to Claire Olson and Chloe Hawkins, 6-2, 6-0. Cabahug went down to Talbert at No. 1 singles, as did Remedio against Olson at No. 2, both 6-0, 6-0.
Baseball’s final week of the regular season saw Springstead clinch the county title with back-to-back wins over Nature Coast and Hernando.
During Monday’s 8-3 triumph over the Sharks, John Oliveira doubled and homered, while Nick Collins and Bodhi Sbashnig both doubled and drove in two runs apiece. Then on Thursday, the Eagles (22-3) downed the Leopards, 5-1. Dakota Blevens doubled and plated a pair of runs, while Oliveira went 2-for-4 with a double and two runs scored. Kevin Tomas tossed 5 1/3 innings, giving up an unearned run on two hits and a walk with two strikeouts.
Hernando (14-11) played a grueling final week’s slate, facing South Sumter, ranked 10th in 5A by ThePrepZone.com, and losing on Tuesday, 6-4. Connor Morgan went 2-for-3 with a run and a RBI. After taking on Springstead, the 10th-ranked team in 6A, the Leopards traveled to 8A Lakeland on Friday and lost, 11-3.
Central (16-9) fell against Land O’ Lakes on Tuesday, 4-0 in a no-hitter, then beat Crystal River on Wednesday, 6-4, and Zephyrhills on Thursday, 3-1. Jonathan Allion and Trevor Adler each homered and tallied three RBI against the Pirates, and Kestler Harbuck threw five shutout innings yielding three hits and striking out four versus the Gators.
Nature Coast (15-9) bounced back from the loss to Springstead with a 10-2 win over Weeki Wachee on Tuesday.
Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr.