WEEKI WACHEE — For Springstead, it was déjà vu. For Nature Coast, there was no bigger result in program history.
Fourth-seeded Nature Coast emerged with an improbable 2-1 victory against the top-seeded Eagles in Wednesday night’s Class 3A, District 7 semifinal to clinch a berth in regionals.
The Sharks (12-11) had been swept by Springstead (17-3-2) in the regular season, including a 7-1 loss. The Eagles were trying to avenge a district semifinal upset loss last season to Ocala Vanguard that kept the team out of the state playoffs.
“They are a tough team, but we have been trying to solidify our starters all season, and this was the first time I felt like we were truly prepared,” Nature Coast coach Ian Wald said. “I told them if we went into the half ahead or scoreless, we’d have a good shot.”
Determined to set the tone from the opening whistle, Nature Coast went to work with a goal by Colton Hoins less than eight minutes into the contest.
The score put Springstead in an unfamiliar position, playing from behind. But even with solid defense throughout from the Shark defenders, Frankie Fontan found an opportunity to tie. He knocked in his 41st goal of the season on a shot across the field, just past the outstretched arms of Nature Coast keeper Chandler Hatcher (six saves).
Momentum was clearly in Springstead’s favor, but the No. 1 seed couldn’t capitalize. The game was knotted at 1 until Ryan Fontano deflected the ball into the net with 22 minutes remaining in regulation. Although there was plenty of time left, the Eagles were unable to form a solid offensive effort.
“Chandler has been a phenom back there for us, but (Wednesday night), our back four (defenders) really stepped up,” Wald said.
“We had Frankie (Fontan) marked up every time down the field.”
The Sharks made their only region appearance in 2005, when they placed second in a three-team district.
The way that the second semifinal turned out was surprising as well, but for a different reason. Citrus and Weeki Wachee had split their regular-season matches, both close scores.
The Hurricanes (17-3-2) left no doubt Wednesday night, shutting out the host Hornets 5-0.
The Hornets mustered only three total shots with their first on goal coming with 17 minutes remaining.
Weeki Wachee (10-8-1) still ended up with its best campaign in program history.