BROOKSVILLE - Springstead may have its sights set on hoisting the Class 3A, District 7 championship trophy next week, but Thursday night it received some practice at it.
The Eagles, who went 7-0-1 in county play this regular season, held on for a 3-2 win in the final of the inaugural Hernando County Coaches Cup at Hernando High.
Though the one-day tournament, pitting teams based on the regular-season county standings, is a recent development, the Eagles (16-2-2) showed genuine excitement as they celebrated with their new hardware.
Even in the biting cold at Tom Fisher Memorial Stadium, many of them exchanged their jerseys for shirts declaring them county champions.
"It is important because it's status," Springstead head coach Warren Schmidt said. "Had we lost it, it might have given the other teams that we're coming up against in district a little more confidence. So we need to keep the pace and do what we're supposed to do.
"We were obviously favored to win and that's what we should have done, and we did."
It wasn't all that easy, and probably shouldn't have been expected to be considering these two teams had just played to a 1-1 tie six nights earlier.
In the first meeting on Dec. 4, Springstead had defeated the Hornets (9-7-1), 2-0.
"There's a little bit of a disappointment because the last two times we've played these guys it could have gone either way and it's kind of gone their way," Weeki Wachee head coach Shane Tarbox said. "But I'm proud of our guys being able to hang with this many seniors and this young of a team that we have right now.
"We played well. There were times when there were defensive breakdowns, when they scored that last goal. Maintaining possession; we had them on their heels in the first half, maintained possession, kept them moving backward. Just got to learn to optimize our opportunities and put some in the back of the net."
Still, count Tarbox among the fans of this fledgling event.
"It's the first year, but rather than just your regular-season record it's nice to play that championship game," Tarbox said. "You get to prove your record going head-to-head, number one, number two.
"We don't put as much on it as we do for districts. Of course districts is the main thing. But it's Hernando County pride and these boys will fight for it every night."
The Hornets struck first in the 12th minute, when Mike Tinari cashed in on a penalty kick after getting tripped in the box.
That lead held until the final minute of the half. Harry Bennett managed to kick the ball over the head of the keeper coming out of the net.
With nothing but open space in front of him, Bennett put it between the pipes, assisted by Ohno Grabowski, for a 1-1 deadlock at intermission.
The senior Bennett notched his second goal in the 55th minute on a breakaway off an assist from Frankie Fontan.
"Really this was a big tournament for us because we knew that we needed to step up and win this game," Bennett said. "I don't think there was anybody out there that wanted it more than I did. I wanted to bring that trophy home so bad.
"The two goals, that was a great play, we worked it well. I was waiting for the killer pass to come through and I just took my chance."
Fontan, the county's leading scorer, notched his 37th goal of the season on a breakaway of his own with just over 13 minutes left to play. Tyler Toth had the assist.
That proved critical when Bailey Hypes, from Jesus Martinez, cut the deficit back to one in the 72nd minute.
The Eagles held on from there, as Matt McDuff made a diving stop in the final two minutes for the most impressive - and critical - of his three saves.
"I'm missing two of my starting defenders (Brandon Bugeny and Austin Larratta with ankle injuries) and that was my biggest concern for my game today," Schmidt said. "We had parts where we played really well and control and possessed, and then other parts where I was very disappointed.
"It's a focus game, and that's important. That's how I approached this game. We need to start focusing and playing well."
Earlier Thursday, Central defeated Hernando Christian Academy for fifth place, 4-3, and Nature Coast downed Hernando for third, 3-1.
Springstead 3, Weeki Wachee 2
WW 1 1 - 2
SPG 1 2 -- 3
Goals - WW: Tinari, Hypes; SPG: Bennett 2, Fontan.
Assists - WW: Martinez; SPG: Grabowski, Fontan, Toth.
Shots on goal - WW: 5; SPG: 13.
Saves - WW: VanSlee 10; SPG: McDuff 3.
Yellow cards - SPG: Ebanks, Bennett, Grabowski; WW: Johnson, Tinari.
Blue cards - none. Red cards - none.
Records - Weeki Wachee (9-7-1), Springstead (16-2-2).
Hernando County Coaches Cup
at Hernando High
Central 4, HCA 3
Nature Coast 3, Hernando 1
Springstead 3, Weeki Wachee 2