SPRING HILL — For the past two seasons, Springstead has had the luxury of leaning on one of the best pitchers in Hernando County history. That comfort is now gone as Kama Woodall has moved on to prominence at North Carolina State.
In her stead, she leaves a talented Eagles club with a few question marks heading into this season.
Returning for Springstead is Paige Pfent, one of the best sluggers this area has ever seen. Two years ago, she broke school records with her .549 batting average and 12 home runs. As a junior, she followed that up with a .460 average and six homers as opponents chose to pitch around her. The result was better numbers for the lineup's surrounding hitters.
"Paige is the straw that stirs the drink," coach Craig Swartout said. "The good thing about it is that the hitters in front of her and behind her are dangerous too. If you pitch around Paige, you have to deal with Kayla (Cruz). We have seven or eight legitimate threats at the plate every time now."
Swartout, in his 16th season at the helm for the Eagles, has thrived the past two years as Springstead has combined for a 52-7 record and two Class 6A region finals berths. He has amassed a 253-129 mark in his career, including six stops in the postseason.
He will call on a depth of arms to replace Woodall. The most accomplished of these players is veteran first baseman Cruz. The senior captain served as the No. 2 starter to Kama Woodall the last two years, going 13-1 with a 0.86 earned run average in that time. She has five shutouts in only 12 starts and struck out 114 batters in only 90 innings. As a sophomore, she tossed a no-hitter against Gateway.
"She's lost one game in two years, so I think she's more than ready," Swartout said. "Kama is a great player, and of course we're going to miss her, but it's Kayla's time to step up and show people just how good she really is."
The other major addition that should bolster Springstead on the field, on the mound, and at the plate is junior transfer Mariah Galhouse. A Tampa Bay Times' all-Tampa Bay honorable mention last season for Pinellas Park, Galhouse has amassed a 9-7 record and 1.71 ERA in her first two prep seasons. She also has been a .314 hitter and is penciled in to fill the enormous void at shortstop left by perennial standout Abby Oliver.
The lineup will again be anchored by Pfent, but the punch does not stop there. Cruz has six home runs in her career and is coming off a career-high .430 season.
Delaney Woodall provides a calming presence at the top of the lineup as a senior. She not only hit .338 while setting the table for Springstead last year, but she covered a lot of ground with her range in centerfield. Although she only hit .281, Emily Kolwicz led the team in at-bats as a sophomore and returns to her role as the team's starting third baseman.
The junior trio of Mackenzie McIntyre, Madison Dicono and Audrey Selby were all crucial members of last year's club, and all return ready to make an impact. The newcomers to the fray are freshmen Alesha France and Raquel Camuglia, as well as junior Brooke Ayo. Sophomore Lourdes Penichet was a late addition to last year's club and saw limited playing time, but she is expected to play a larger role for Swartout this season.
"You always add a few girls every year, but the transition has been seamless with this group because of their maturity," Swartout said. "We'll have to see how the chemistry plays out, but this is an intelligent bunch."
Expectations for Springstead may not be where they were prior to the past seasons, but don't tell that to the girls who are suiting up for the Eagles in 2018. This group believes that they can go even farther if everything lines up right. With a good combination of young talent and veteran leadership, there is no reason to think that this roster can't challenge for a region title like their predecessors.
"We don't take anything for granted," Swartout said. "So many schools are circling us on their schedules. We can't be complacent. We are going to fight and claw for every run, every hit."