BROOKSVILLE – In the end, the sixth annual Leopard Slam softball tournament played out much like the last one. Just as they did a year ago, Springstead and Nature Coast squared off in the final.
Last season, it was the Lady Eagles celebrating with the championship trophy, and they found themselves in that position again on Saturday night at Tom Varn Park’s Ernie Chatman Field, knocking the Lady Sharks from the unbeaten ranks with an 8-2 victory.
“It was a great game tonight,” Springstead head coach Craig Swartout said. “We didn’t play as well as we could have played the first game (on Saturday, a 2-0 win over Hernando). But it got us to the championship and then we really showed up tonight against a good team. So, I’m very pleased with the effort.”
The Lady Eagles (11-1) got the scoring started with two runs in the bottom of the first, the first one coming in bizarre fashion. Abby Oliver doubled between two pop-ups to shortstop, and Kama Woodall hit a dribbler just in front of home plate that drifted toward the first-base line.
However, the ball got caught up in the clumped-up dirt and essentially leaned up against the chalk only a few feet down the line. As the catcher waited in hopes of the ball rolling foul, Oliver raced around and scored from second.
“That was my best ‘swunt’ of my life, for sure,” Woodall joked about the near swinging bunt. “It just set the tone that we’re here to score and not just play defense.”
Kayla Cruz followed with a booming double in the left-center field gap just beyond the reach of the sprinting center fielder, bringing home a second run.
Springstead added two more in the second inning, again with two outs. Emily Kolwicz lined a single past the diving left fielder and after a walk Paige Pfent singled up the middle to push the lead to 4-0.
Nature Coast (11-1) battled back in the top of the third on Chayse Skinner’s two-run home run that cleared the fence in left-center.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Lady Eagles tacked on two more runs, once more doing the damage with two outs. Hannah Rizzuto grounded a single into left to drive in one, and Delaney Woodall then produced a grounder that went through the legs of the second baseman to bring in the other.
Kama Woodall smashed a ball so hard off the left-field fence that she was initially held to a single in the sixth, though she advanced to second as another runner scampered home. Cruz added her second RBI double to left-center, as every run the Lady Eagles scored came with two outs.
“Nothing that they do surprises me anymore,” Swartout said. “They’re just different kinds of girls, wound a little a different. Every one of them is a competitor, and that’s the name of the game. Where else is a better indicator of how competitive a team is than two-out knocks, two-out hits?
“It’s another game. We play Nature Coast again Monday and we move on. We don’t focus on victories too long or losses too long. We’ll enjoy it tonight, and Monday we’ll be ready to play them again.”
Kama Woodall scattered nine hits and walked none in her seven innings of work on the mound, striking out six. Offensively, she went 3-for-4 with the two RBI.
“It’s a really great point to have on our resume now going on in the season,” Kama Woodall said. “I pitched all right. Tonight, it was more about our offense and staying up on the other team and capitalizing on mistakes.
“We came in prepared because we saw a lot of good pitching over the course of this tournament, and it really led up to this one, and we put the bat on the ball.”
The Lady Sharks will look to regroup from their first loss of the season when they host the Lady Eagles on Monday.
“I liked our approach at the plate. I thought we did some good things. They’re good, man. You can’t get behind like that,” Nature Coast head coach Jug Olmstead said. “You get in a situation where I’ve got to play for three or four runs when I would like to play for one. It kind of changes my whole philosophy.
“Overall, I’m happy. We started off a little slow (on Friday) the first game against West Port. Got better against Wiregrass and played all right (in a 7-2 win Saturday over South Sumter). So, I’m pleased with everything. You just can’t give them eight runs.”
Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr.