It took three tries, but with its back against the wall Springstead finally figured out how to beat county-rival Central.
The Eagles, despite owning a better overall record, had fallen twice to the Bears in the regular season, but Tuesday night’s Class 6A, District 6 semifinal proved another matter entirely.
Third-seeded Springstead’s offense exploded over the first four innings, allowing it to exact some revenge on host and second-seeded Central, earn a regional berth and a spot in Thursday’s championship game all at once, behind a 14-2 victory in five innings.
“It meant a whole lot more (than the regular-season contests),” Springstead head coach Jim Diven said. “It’s a district (tournament) game. We had a lot of energy. They had beaten us two times in a row. All we had to do was beat them one time and we’d be county champs.
“There was a lot on the line for us. We had a lot to prove. This is the first time we’ve hit the ball this well in five or six games.”
In the process, the Eagles (15-8) did finally figure out the puzzle that had been Bear (10-15) southpaw Trevor McKenna.
The junior had tossed a no-hitter at Springstead in a 7-0 win on April 5, and still hadn’t yielded a hit despite permitting a run in the top of the first inning.
After Kyle Cottilletta worked a leadoff walk, with two away Will Perdomo, Nic Pasarela and Will Pagan were all issued free passes, pushing the Eagles in front, 1-0.
With the help of a two-out error – one of six on the night for Central – Springstead made it 2-0 in the second when Ryan Nicoll laced a double to the left-field wall.
Then came the pivotal third, when the Eagles batted around before the second out was recorded, sending 11 batters to the plate and scoring seven times.
Sean Nascimento’s bunt single technically brought home Nic Pasarela, though Pasarela essentially slid into home plate at the same time as Nascimento made contact.
A throwing error brought home another run on the play. Cottilletta then notched a run batted in on a single to left-center, and Nicoll drove in another on an infield single to the third-base side of the mound.
Brandon Brosher was walked intentionally for Perdomo, who singled to left to bring home two more runs and make it a 9-0 advantage.
Yet the Eagle onslaught continued in the fourth. Danny Schonborn scored on an error, and another intentional pass to Brosher loaded the bases for Perdomo.
The right-hander responded to the challenge by a smashing a ball over the left-center field wall for a grand slam. He completed the day 2-for-3 with a walk and six RBI.
“It was 3-1 (count). It was a meat pitch,” Perdomo said of the homer. “I tried to hit it, tried to get runs for my team and try to get the ‘W.’
“It’s a good feeling to help the team get a ‘W’ and do whatever I can. I went up with no pressure. Just try to do what I could.”
Nicoll, a senior, finished 2-for-3 with a double, two runs scored and two RBI. He also earned the win on the mound, going four innings permitting two runs on five hits and two walks while striking out four.
“All season, most of our losses came down to lack of intensity,” Nicoll said. “We know we have the potential to go far if we stay focused and stay in the game.
“After my first start against (Central), I got the loss, I was not pitching well. Since then I’ve been rolling on the mound. I love being out there, I love the control. I’ve been pitching really confident and it’s worked out.”
Diven and Nicoll also pointed to a defensive effort that featured no errors, a welcome change from season-long struggles in that area.
The Eagles had made regionals two years in a row, including a district title in 2011, before a tumultuous 2012 campaign including an in-season coaching change and an early postseason exit.
Diven took over last summer and admitted it hasn’t always been a smooth transition, so this win provided some validation.
“It’s huge. We needed it. We’ve had a rough road,” Diven said. “It’s still difficult. But we’re making progress, we’re making huge progress. But you can only do so much. But now they’re starting to believe.”
Springstead will return to Central to face top-seeded Citrus on Thursday at 7 p.m. The Eagles actually swept both regular-season meetings with the Hurricanes.
“It’s hard to beat a team three times in a row,” Diven said. “We knew that coming in here, too. If we play like did tonight, we’ll do well.”
Central head coach Al Sorrentino knew all too well the difficulties in downing an opponent thrice in one season.
“If we throw strikes and execute, we’ll be fine. And we had trouble doing both,” Coach Sorrentino said. “We didn’t have a lot of opportunities offensively to do the things that made us successful. The errors in the field caused big problems.
“It’s not even mentally (difficult to beat a team three times). Statistically, it doesn’t happen very often. It doesn’t mean you don’t come out and execute and play your best, and we obviously didn’t do that tonight.”
Springstead 14, Central 2 (5 inn.)
Class 6A, District 6 Tournament
No. 4 Lecanto vs. No. 5 Ocala-West Port
West Port def. Lecanto, 10-4
No. 1 Citrus vs. West Port
Citrus def. West Port, 4-1
No. 2 Central vs. No. 3 Springstead
Springstead def. Central, 14-2
Citrus vs. Springstead, 7 p.m.