BROOKSVILLE - Webster's defines character as "the combination of qualities or features that distinguishes one person, group or thing from another."
Character was at the forefront of Wednesday night's remarkable District 6 Senior Boys (age 14) All-Stars finale pitting Wildwood and Spring Hill.
In a game many of the fans in attendance will never forget, Spring Hill's 12-man team demonstrated the heart of a champion, rallying from a 10-run first-inning deficit - behind two of their tournament-high eight homers - to eventually overtake Wildwood via the 10-run mercy rule in 4½ innings, 23-13.
The unbelievable come-from-behind effort sealed Spring Hill 14s 21st straight District 6 win - or since dropping a 5-4 nod to Sumter under skipper Joe Abbadessa on June 28, 2009 at the Kenny Dixon Sports Complex in Bushnell.
The district title was Spring Hill's sixth in a row in this age division and eighth in 10 summers since 2004.
Moreover, district champion Spring Hill (4-0), district runner-up Wildwood (3-2), third-place finisher Brooksville (1-2) and fifth-place finisher San Antonio (1-2) will all be advancing to the July 20 Senior Boys State Championship in Sebring.
San Antonio replaced fourth-place Wesley Chapel, who declined an offer to participate at states.
"Tonight, my boys never quit," stressed Wildwood head coach Bo Skipper. "We knew we could play with them. Spring Hill is a heck of a team."
From the home dugout, Spring Hill head coach Shawn Laferty looked more relieved than being in a celebratory mood.
"I told the guys after the first half-inning, 'We got people in the stands laughing at us,'" he recalled. "I didn't lose my head. I just said 'Let's go out and score some runs.'"
Laferty gave the proverbial game ball to Brett Maharaj, who literally held down the fort long enough for Spring Hill to battle back.
"After a half-inning, I was seriously playing for the next game. I knew we'd have to save a couple guys (pitchers) if we lost this game," he recalled. "We needed someone to step up and that was Brett.
"He was amazing. He's not an overpowering guy by any stretch," described Laferty. "His curve and off-speed stuff bought us some time offensively to climb back into this."
On what Laferty was most proud of, "This (win) shows the ton of character we have on this team. Tonight showed our backbone and I liked what we saw.
"If you would have told me we'd be down 10-0 and come back and win via the mercy rule, I would have thought you're out of your mind," emphasized Laferty. "But that's exactly what happened."
With the win, Laferty tied the Hernando County record for most district championships (four), joining Brooksville's Gerald Johnson, and Spring Hill's Jim Keith and Vito Tambasco Sr.
"Just winning tonight was nice," noted Laferty. "Joining that select company is kind of fun. It just says something about how hard getting five is. Honestly, it makes me think twice of how many kids I've helped coach. They're the ones that have gotten the job done. I've just been along for the ride."
Through the tourney's first four days, Spring Hill entered its fourth game unbeaten at 3-0, having outscored its opponents, 37-2.
That all changed in a game that finished three minutes shy of four hours in length and withstood two rain/lightning delays totaling 80 minutes at Brooksville's Ernie Wever Youth Park.
Hernando Youth League director Mike Walker and his grounds crew did a stout job of maintaining the playing surface so the game could be completed.
Skipper's Wildwood crew, which was pounded Monday night via the 10-run mercy rule after five innings by Spring Hill, 16-1, came out blazing.
Spring Hill's much-heralded southpaw Noah Siem was out of sorts. He could not find any rhythm failing to retire any of the eight batters he faced in the first inning.
A bad omen arrived with the game's leadoff batter. On Siem's 1-2 offering to Jeff Sutton, Sutton swung and missed at a pitch in the dirt that skipped past catcher Nick Nguyen to the backstop, allowing Sutton to easily reach first base without a throw.
Siem failed to get out of the first, being charged with eight runs (seven earned) on three hits, four walks and four wild pitches.
Spring Hill slowly chipped away at the double-digit deficit scoring five first-inning runs on five hits off Alan Greene.
The uprising was highlighted by a two-run triple to right-center by Dominic Marrone, RBI doubles by Siem and Paul Coumoulos, and an RBI single by Maharaj.
Wildwood held a 13-5 lead before the game's complexion quickly tilted in the fourth.
In an inning where Spring Hill made Brazilians blush with its version of a conga line, the West Hernando County crew paraded 18 batters to the plate against an ineffective Greene, Ty St. Amant and Chandler Benton.
In all, Spring Hill took advantage of one error, six walks and seven hits to tally 15 runs.
Seven Spring Hill players scored twice in the uprising: Luke Laferty, Siem, Morgan Ashton, Marrone, Robert Bunyon, Maharaj and Bodhi Sbashnig.
The uprising was highlighted by Bunyon's two-run single off Greene and grand slam just over the center-field fence off Benton.
Siem crushed a two-run double off Amant, who failed to retire any of the six batters he faced.
Marrone slapped a RBI single and enjoyed a bases-loaded free pass.
Nguyen capped the frame with his team-best third homer of the tournament - the team's eighth overall - a booming two-run shot to right-center off Benton.
Up 20-13, Laferty brought in his hard-throwing closer Marrone. Marrone pitched a scoreless fifth allowing one hit while fanning a pair.
Spring Hill invoked the 10-run mercy rule with three runs on two hits off Benton.
Maharaj (1-0) earned the mound victory. He faced 20 batters across four innings permitting seven hits and five runs (three earned). He did not issue a walk, hit a batter and fanned three.
The Spring Hill 'Bomb Squad', which averaged 16 runs in the tournament, finished with a game-high 14 hits and superior efforts up and down the lineup.
Spring Hill's first three batters - Laferty, Siem and Ashton - set the table reaching base a collective 14 times in 15 plate appearances.
Laferty, Siem and Ashton each scored a game-high four runs apiece.
Though Siem was roughed up on the hill, he did not allow his poor mound performance to impact his batting. Siem finished 3-for-3 with three RBI.
Through the first three tourney tilts, Morgan had reached base eight times. On Wednesday he reached base five times in five appearances with a 1-for-1 effort, plus two walks and two hit-by-pitches.
Words were exchanged when Ashton was hit for the second time by Greene in the back of the head in the fourth.
The heart of the Spring Hill order - Marrone, Coumoulos and Bunyon - also delivered with a combined 5-of-10 at the plate with 12 RBI.
Even the bottom third - Maharaj, Nguyen, Sbashnig, and Trevor Vendrone - contributed going a combined 4-for-10 at the plate with five runs scored and three RBI.
"When we were down 10-0, it was pretty nerve-racking," explained the 14-year-old Maharaj, who finished 3-for-4 at the dish with two runs. "When coach put me in, I hadn't really pitched in a while. The ball was slick and it was hard to grip.
"Today, I thought my curve was on," he added. "Winning today was pretty good. This is my first all-star team and the first time I've been on a team who won a district championship."
"Even though we were down, we were just trying to keep the guys amped up," noted the 14-year-old Marrone, who finished 2-for-3, with three runs scored and four knocked in. "I've never been in a game like this before.
"I thought the key was just staying in the flow. We kind of hung around," pointed out Marrone. "Credit belongs to Brett (Maharaj). The majority of his pitches are breaking stuff and it kept them (Wildwood) off-balance and it was messing up their hitters."
On Bunyon's grand slam, "When it went out, I knew we'd win," recalled Marrone.
"Down 10-0, we tried to keep everyone amped up," added the 14-year-old Bunyon, who finished 2-for-4 with a game-high six RBI. "No one really panicked in our dugout."
On Bunyon's bomb which gave Spring Hill a 14-13 lead, he said, "On the swing, I thought it was a little pop fly that just kept going back and back. When it left the yard, I was screaming as I ran the bases; I was so happy."
On the game's significance, "This (win) was huge," declared Bunyon. "It really boasts our confidence to be able to come back like this."
Recapping the tourney, Spring Hill opened the six-team event with a 12-0 shutout over host Brooksville in 4½ innings. Siem and Marrone hurled a combined no-hitter at Brooksville.
Siem (1-0) earned the mound win working the first three innings allowing four walks against four punch-outs.
Marrone twirled the final two frames yielding one free pass against three strikeouts.
Offensively, Spring Hill clubbed eight hits earning some breathing room with five first-inning runs.
Coumoulos paced the winners with a 2-for-3 effort at the plate with five RBI highlighted by a grand slam in the first frame.
In a game where Spring Hill belted three homers, Ashton went 1-for-1 highlighted by a three-run dinger in a turn-out-the-lights, five-run fifth. In all, Aston plated three runs and drove in four.
Nguyen also clubbed a solo homer in the fourth and finished 1-for-3.
Marrone went 1-for-3 and plated three runs.
Spring Hill swallowed up Wildwood in Game 2, 16-1, invoking the mercy rule after five innings.
Bunyon (1-0) hurled a complete-game three-hitter at Wildwood allowing one run and three walks against seven strikeouts.
For the second straight game, Nguyen cracked a homer - a two-run blast in a seven-run third inning - that inflated the score to 13-0 after 2½ innings.
Nguyen finished 2-for-3 with three runs scored and four RBI. Vendrone nearly matched Nguyen with a 2-for-3 effort, plus two runs scored and three RBI. Vendrone launched a three-run homer in the third.
Marrone chipped in a 2-for-3 effort with a double and two RBI. Ashton scored three runs while Luke Laferty and Siem each plated two runs.
Spring Hill solved Brooksville for the second time in Game 3, 13-1 after 4½ innings.
Like Marrone, Coumoulos went the distance yielding one run on five hits and one walk against five strikeouts in his efficient 67-pitch effort.
For the second straight game, Vendrone went yard with a solo homer in a three-run second inning that pushed the lead to 7-1.
Nguyen, Luke Laferty, Siem and Marrone each contributed two safeties. Marrone drove in three runs while Siem knocked in a pair.
Officially, Ashton reached on an error, was a hit by a pitch twice and was walked once and scored three runs. Zack Lawrence went 1-for-1, plus a walk and was plunked by a pitch.
Spring Hill 23, Wildwood 13 (4½ Innings)
1 23 4 5 R H E
WW (10)12 0 0 - 13 11 2
SH 5 00 (15) 3 - 23 14 4
WW - Greene, Amant (4), Benton (4) and Hurst.
SH - Siem, Maharaj (1), Marrone (5) and Nguyen.
W - Maharaj (1-0). L - Amant (0-1).
2B - Sutton, Hurst (WW); Siem 2, Coumoulos, Maharaj (SH).
3B - Marrone (SH).
HR - Bunyon, Nguyen (SH).
Records - Wildwood (3-2), Spring Hill (4-0).
Dixie Senior Boys (age 14) All-Stars District 6 Tourney Recap
at Brooksville's Ernie Weaver Youth Park
Wildwood 12, San Antonio 11
Wesley Chapel 10, Bushnell 6
Spring Hill 12, Brooksville 0 (4.5 Innings)
San Antonio 12, Bushnell 2
Wildwood 15, Wesley Chapel 12
Brooksville 11, San Antonio 5
Spring Hill 16, Wildwood 1 (5)
Wildwood 11, Wesley Chapel 0
Spring Hill 13, Brooksville 1 (4.5)
Spring Hill 23, Wildwood 13 (4.5)
2013 District 6 Senior Boys (age 14) Standings at Brooksville's Ernie Wever Youth Park
PL TEAM W L .PCT RS RA
1. Spring Hill* 4 0 .000 64 15
2. Wildwood* 3 2 .600 52 62
3. Brooksville* 1 2 .333 12 30
4. Wesley Chapel 1 2 .333 22 32
5. San Antonio* 1 2 .333 28 25
6. Bushnell 0 2 .000 08 22
TOTALS (6) 10 10 .500
* Denotes teams that will advance to July 20 State Championship at Sebring.
By the Numbers: Spring Hill Senior Boys (age 14) District 6 Results (2001-13)
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
YR W L .PCT HEAD COACH
2001 1 2 .333 Gus Guadagnino
2002 2 2 .500 Tom Ross
2003 2 2 .500 Bob Shepard
2004$+ 5 0 1.000 Doug DeRespris
2005$+ 5 0 1.000 John Maggard
2006 3 2 .600 Terry Forgach
2007 2 2 .500 Les Homan
2008$$= 4 1 .800 Mike Sollazzo
2009$+ 5 1 .833 Joe Abbadessa
2010$+ 5 0 1.000 Shawn Laferty
2011$+ 5 0 1.000 Vito Tambasco, Sr.
2012$+ 4 0 1.000 Gary Myers
2013$+ 4 0 1.000 Shawn Laferty
TOTALS 47 12 .797 -12-
+ Denotes state qualifier
$ Denotes district champion
$$ Denotes district/state champion
= Denotes World Series qualifier