BROOKSVILLE — Quite simply, an emotional way to end an exciting weekend of softball.
One out away from losing the seventh annual Leopard Slam tourney on Saturday to two-time defending champion Springstead, Sunlake stepped up one last time.
The heart of the Seahawk order came through big time. Cleanup hitter Riley Baxter drew a five-pitch walk, moved to third on Emma Sica's fourth hit of the night, and both scored when Isabella Huff drove reliever Kayla Cruz' 1-1 offering to left-centerfield for her third hit — a double — and an amazing 6-5 victory.
"We've been practicing for months; we prepared so well for situations like this," said Huff, tears of joy streaking the day-old eye-black from her face. "I wanted to get on base and I got the pitch I was looking for, high and outside."
"This was a Seahawk win," said Sunlake coach Nelson Garcia. "If we still have life, either by long-ball or small-ball, we do whatever it takes. It's part of our DNA; we don't give up."
The same could be said about Springstead (11-1). The Eagles had to wait 1 1/2 hours to play and win its semifinal 9-7 over Sickles, then saddle up 20 minutes later to face 13-1 Sunlake, only to fall behind 2-0 through 3 1/2 innings.
After a pep talk from standout senior Paige Pfent, Springstead scored the game's next five runs to seemingly lock up the title. Emily Kolwicz' fourth-inning single scored Raquel Camuglia (double). Cruz' fifth-inning base hit and an error gave the Eagles the lead, then Mariah Galhouse (two hits, two runs scored) blasted a two-run homer to left-centerfield.
But Sunlake persisted, going through four pitchers trying to find someone to shut down Springstead's potent lineup.
That ended up being sophomore Alyssa Cordoba as she retired four of the five batters she faced, including two strikeouts with a big insurance run in Kolwicz perched at third.
"We brought in a senior (starter Mariah Melendez), a junior (Morgan Boudreau) and a freshman (lefty Mikayla Hoschak) before Alyssa, and we had another freshman ready," said Garcia. "We would have brought in a parent if we had to," he said with a smile.
Sunlake set the stage with two runs in the sixth on Jenna Gabrielli's ground-out and a two-out Cordoba single.
"It was a grind; every run was a tough one," said Springstead coach Craig Swartout. "Sunlake really puts on the pressure, they hit, hit, hit. We had opportunities but there are no excuses.
"The one saving grace was losing to a coach I admire and respect (in Garcia) and a team that plays hard for seven innings. Congratulations to them, and we go back to work with a big district week ahead of us."
Sunlake goes into its spring break week, giving Garcia time to review his squad after going four-deep in the circle on Saturday.
"We've been on a three-pitcher rotation so far. I'm going to look at everything and start up our rotation for when we face Wiregrass Ranch (a week from Tuesday)."