When the dust settled across the Dixie Softball District 4 Tournaments this weekend in East Pasco County, one of four Hernando County teams was left standing.
In the three-day, double-elimination tournaments for the Darlings (ages 7-8), Angels X-play (ages 9-10), Ponytails X-play (ages 11-12) and Belles (ages 13-15), only the Spring Hill Darlings advanced to the July 5-9 Dixie Softball State Championship at Brooksville's Tom Varn Park.
Head coach Nik Gilleo's Darlings finished 3-0 by edging West Pasco on Friday, 14-12, and West Chapel on Saturday, 18-14, before thumping West Pasco on Sunday across 4½ innings, 24-13.
"Going in I knew we had a good team and would compete well," explained Coach Gilleo, who inherited the leadership of the team after two other mentors could not make the necessary commitment. "Overall this group more than exceeded my expectations."
In Sunday's victory, outfielder Leeanna Freeman "made three huge catches in left-center" described Coach Gilleo. "We settled in after we shook off some first-inning jitters. After that it wasn't close."
On the approach to solving always-tough West Pasco, "We had a lot of anxiety playing those guys," detailed Coach Gilleo. "We had heard the majority of their team had played travel ball. No way did I think we'd steamroll three teams to get this far.
"The kids went above and beyond what I expected," he added.
Up 21-13 in the top of the fifth, Faith Gilleo and Pipe Sullivan reached on back-to-back safeties before Freeman's RBI single plated Gilleo.
With runners at second and third, Mallory Austin's single knocked in two runs to invoke the 10-run mercy rule, 24-13.
"I started fielding phone calls immediately from the parents after districts," pointed out Coach Gilleo on his team's preparations for states. "Defensively, we're going to stress making plays at the easiest base.
"We're also going to work on some simple things with our baserunning; on little things to become more aggressive on the base paths. We're not pushing for wholesale changes. Why fix what's not broken?"
On earning his first-ever district title, "Besides the birth of my first child, this has been one of the most emotional weeks I've ever had," noted Gilleo on the stressed involved with calling the shots. "I've been tugged in so many different directions; there's a lot on my plate.
"This is my first time as a head coach besides helping during the regular season," added Coach Gilleo. "But the regular season is nowhere close to what goes on in a competitive district tournament. The key for me is to stay positive; I'd like the kids to learn the game the right way.
"I just ask them to do three things: Don't care about the score. Secondly, I do care that they listen and that they don't quit on me. So far, it's been fun and enjoyable. I've learned something new every day."
The Spring Hill Ponytails finished 1-2 overall dropping a par of well-played games against host Wesley Chapel.
"I thought our kids played great. Overall it's a young group of girls," noted skipper Paul McGee. "The good news is eight of the girls could play Ponytails next summer. "
On his team's strength, "I thought we were pretty deep pitching-wise," described Coach McGee. "Honestly, I couldn't have asked more from our starting pitching."
On the tourney difference, "Give Wesley Chapel credit, they played small ball very well," he said. "I thought we adjusted our defense. Wesley Chapel did a good job of hitting when they needed to.
"It was a real pleasure playing there against them. The final scores don't indicate how close both of our losses were," said McGee. "I thought as a whole we played well; the other teams played a little better."
In Game 1, Spring Hill fell to Wesley Chapel, 6-1. The visitors, who suffered four strikeouts, were handcuffed to four hits.
Madison Dicono paced the Spring Hill nine with two singles and drove in her team's one run.
On the hill, Jenna Ryan hurled five innings allowing six runs on eight hits with four walks against four strikeouts.
In Game 2, Spring Hill unleashed a 14-hit barrage to whack West Pasco in four innings, 14-4.
Ryan improved to 1-1 on the bump, departing after two innings and an 11-2 cushion. Ryan permitted two runs on four hits, did not issue a walk and fanned two.
Olivia Gartland relieved Ryan and hurled the final two frames. She allowed two runs on four hits and three walks against two strikeouts.
At the plate, Spring Hill snapped a 2-all deadlock after one inning behind a nine-run, second- inning rally.
Ashley Perez led the winners with a perfect 3-for-3 effort including two textbook bunt singles besides scoring three runs.
Dicono enjoyed another fine effort going 2-for-2, plus a walk. Megan McClellan finished 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles.
In the rubber game, Spring Hill batters again only fanned four times, but were limited to four safeties in being eliminated by Wesley Chapel, 6-2.
Ryan (1-2) went the distance for Spring Hill. She allowed six runs on seven hits with four free passes against four punch-outs.
McKenna Corbett and Audrey Selby plated Spring Hill's single runs in the second and third innings respectively.
Wesley Chapel, which trailed 2-1, rallied for two runs in the fourth to regain the lead before icing the game with three runs in the bottom of the fifth.
The Spring Hill Belles also went 1-2. Spring Hill fell in the tourney opener to West Pasco, 11-5, before edging Wesley Chapel Saturday in eight innings, 4-3.
Head coach Dianne McClellan's squad was eliminated Sunday, dropping a 5-0 verdict to West Pasco.
Skipper T Oliver's Angels finished 0-2. The West Hernando County nine were edged Friday night by host West Chapel, 3-2. On Saturday, West Pasco eliminated Spring Hill, 10-3.
Final Dixie Softball District 4 Dixie Softball Results
at Wesley Chapel District Park
Darlings (ages 7-8)
Spring Hill (3-0)
Spring Hill 14, West Pasco 12
Spring Hill 18, Wesley Chapel 14
Spring Hill 24, West Pasco 13 (4½ Innings)
Angels X-play (ages 9-10)
Spring Hill (0-2)
Wesley Chapel 3, Spring Hill 2
West Pasco 10, Spring Hill 3
Ponytails X-play (ages 11-12)
Spring Hill (1-2)
Wesley Chapel 6, Spring Hill 1
Spring Hill 14, West Pasco 4 (4 Innings)
Wesley Chapel 6, Spring Hill 2
Belles (ages 13-15)
Spring Hill (1-2)
West Pasco 11, Spring Hill 5
Spring Hill 4, Wesley Chapel 3 (8)
West Pasco 5, Spring Hill 0