SPRING HILL — The series of unfortunate events that has characterized this week for Springstead nearly continued Friday night, but the Eagles were able to hold on for an important Class 6A, District 6 win.
Competing in its second game in two nights without coach Frank Vitale in the dugout, Springstead held on for a 10-7 win over Central.
Vitale, in his ninth season at the helm of the Eagles (11-2), was suspended Thursday by the administration for an unspecified violation, according to junior varsity coach and acting varsity replacement George Bennett. That night the team went to Hernando and suffered a 10-7 loss in one of the most difficult games on its schedule.
“It’s been difficult for all of us,” Bennett said. “There’s a comfort level between me and the kids because I’ve coached some of them before, so it’s not completely foreign, but the overall situation is tough.”
Bennett said Vitale will be out at least through spring break, which starts this weekend and lasts a week for the Hernando County schools.
The effect of the turmoil on the team showed on the field. After jumping out to a 10-0 advantage in the first two innings over Central (5-6), the Eagles’ offense came to a standstill and starter Jimmy Diven began to struggle.
Bennett pulled Diven (three innings, two walks, four strikeouts, two earned runs) in favor of reliever Kevin Oliveira, but the new pitcher lasted only two-thirds of an inning, surrendering four runs as the lead was cut to 10-7 in the top of the fourth.
“We were getting a little too confident,” Springstead senior Ryan Nicoll said, “and it started to show on the field.”
Central started Trevor McKenna, but after the sophomore gave up seven earned runs while walking five, he was quickly pulled for Joey Wright. With his only blemish a three-run homer to designated hitter Trent Wyzykowski, Wright tossed five innings, striking out nine with only three walks. At one point, he retired 11 straight hitters.
Over the last two innings the Bears’ bats did not cooperate. The team loaded the bases in the fifth and seventh innings but was unable to push runs across. In total Central stranded 10 runners in scoring position.
Nicoll, who started at shortstop, came in for the final two innings and earned the save while striking out four.
The win was important for the Eagles, Nicoll he could sense the difference in the team over the past couple days.
“It’s weird without (Vitale) here,” Nicoll said. “We’re used to seeing him, and now it’s distracting without him. We just need to play baseball. Coaches don’t win games, the players do.”