The dog pile after the final out perfectly conveyed the emotional catharsis Springstead felt Thursday night.
Two years removed from winning their first district championship in 15 years, having endured the turmoil of a coaching change and the disappointment of a semifinal loss in 2012, the Eagles returned to the district perch.
Facing a top-seeded Citrus club it had actually defeated twice in the regular season, third-seeded Springstead secured the Class 6A, District 6 crown, winning 6-1 at Central High.
“We’ve had adversity all season long,” first-year Springstead head coach Jim Diven said. “The team is finally jelling. We’ve figured out the infield. That’s taken us all season long. We’re peaking at the time we should be peaking.”
The Eagles (16-8) will host 6A-5 runner-up Gainesville (9-18) in a 6A-Region II quarterfinal Wednesday at 7 p.m.
“Springstead has never won a regional game before,” senior Brandon Brosher said. “But now that’s our goal. We think that we have a chance to win a couple games in the region.”
The first two Citrus (13-14) batters he faced in the bottom of the first, Kyle Tobin and Brooks Brasher, each notched singles, and the next batter, Cody Bogart, plated Tobin on a groundout to second.
But Brosher settled in from there, and the Eagles knotted it up in the third.
Danny Schonborn singled to lead off the frame, and scored from third when Kyle Cottilletta beat out a potential inning-ending double play.
Schonborn was again in the middle of a rally, singling with one out in the fifth. Catcher Trent Wyzykowski doubled to put men on second and third.
After a strikeout, Cottilletta worked a walk to load the bases and bring up Ryan Nicoll. The senior shortstop smacked a double to the left-field wall, clearing the bases.
“Kyle was up before me with two outs and he drew the walk. That was a great at-bat by him,” Nicoll said. “I felt the pressure, but I like to feed off it. I got a fastball on the inner half and I turned on it.
“We knew in the first inning there was a lot of ballgame to play. There was no chance of us getting down. Tying it up first and that double giving us a lead, it was a relief. We knew Brandon was pitching and he’d get the job done.”
The Hurricanes tried to mount a comeback over the next two innings, leaving the bases loaded each time.
Brosher ended the fifth with back-to-back strikeouts. In the sixth, Alex Barbee lifted a fly ball into the right-center field gap that seemed destined to plate three runs, but center fielder Will Pagan made his second tremendous diving catch of the game.
“I was just trying to get an out there and make a play,” said Pagan, in his first year playing center. “I looked at my right fielder, Kyle (Cottilletta). Both of us were just running toward it. I kept running and made the play.”
“He’s just an amazing athlete, he really is,” Diven said of Pagan. “He could play anywhere on the field. I’m glad he’s a junior and he’ll be back next year. He’s awesome. He’s made plays like that all season long.”
The Eagles tacked on a couple more insurance runs in the seventh, on a two-run single by Will Perdomo.
Nicoll finished 2-for-3 with a walk and three runs batted in. Schonborn was 2-for-3 and scored twice.
Brosher went the distance, scattering five hits, four walks and a hit batter, striking out six.
“I feel asleep sometimes on the mound, getting lazy with my mechanics,” Brosher said. “When they got on base it woke me up. My blood started pumping a little extra.”
When Brosher recorded the game-ending strikeout, Wyzykowski popped up from behind the plate and tossed the ball in the air. By the time it landed near the mound, he and his teammates were piled up on the ground in celebration.
Later on, they managed to sneak up on Diven and deliver a water-cooler bath on the rookie prep mentor. It was quite a different feeling from the recent past.
“We’re just enjoying it at this point,” Nicoll said. “We think we can go as far as we’ve ever gone.”
Springstead 6, Citrus 1
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
Springstead def. Citrus, 6-1