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SPRING HILL — Springstead won its second district crown in 15 seasons last year, but when the team lost three of its biggest stars to graduation, not many would have thought the Eagles would be in line for a third.
Frank Vitale, in his ninth season coaching Springstead, had the task of replacing his two aces, Bobby Pasarela and J.R. Wright, and cleanup hitter Julian Perez. Because of patient players stepping up, things are looking good for the program again.
Vitale was counting on the arm and bat of star junior Brandon Brosher, who led the Eagles in homers (eight), runs batted in (25) and was third in batting average (.356) last season. But Brosher injured his elbow last summer, and it continued to hinder him through the fall.
A doctor told him to rest it for three months before getting back to throwing. That timetable didn’t run its course until Monday.
So in stepped senior Joe Siegfried. After starting in leftfield last season and hitting just .094, Siegfried has stepped up to throw a 4-0 no-hitter against Central and a 4-1 two-hitter, in which he had 14 strikeouts, against Lecanto. He is throwing 88-90 mph and has a 0.89 ERA.
“Joey threw as a freshman and sophomore on JV, and now he’s really stepped up for us and taken Brosher’s slot,” Vitale said. “I knew all along he’d be a part of our staff, I just didn’t know he’d be blowing kids away like he is.”
His bat has come around as well. He is hitting .333 through six games with nine RBIs. He had only three hits and one RBI all of last season.
Other than Brosher, Ryan Nicoll is the returner with the most experience and highest expectations, and he has shown there was good reason for it. He is hitting a team-leading .609 with the Eagles’ only home run, nine RBIs and 14 runs scored. After smacking the ball around at a team-leading .461 clip in 2011, Springstead’s shortstop is on pace to do some heavy damage.
“Ryan’s a rare breed that can do anything I ask him to do,” Vitale said. “Every coach would love to have a player like him.”
When at full strength, the lineup is solid throughout. Nic Pasarela, Bobby’s younger brother, started at second base last season and got valuable experience. He is hitting .421 and is second on the team with nine runs scored.
Jimmy Diven slumped a little early on, but the senior outfielder and reliever has experience that the team sorely needs. Trey Scott, on the other hand, started the year on a hot streak, and his numbers are far above where they were at this time a season ago. His job at catcher also bolsters the new pitching staff.
The Eagles weren’t eye-popping at 17-11 last year, but they got the job done. Now the team has been reassigned to Class 6A, District 6 along with Lecanto, Central, Citrus and West Port. None of those schools made the state playoffs last year, giving Springstead the confidence that a run this season is all the more possible.
After losing their first game to Tarpon Springs in the Lee Byers Invitational tournament at East Lake because of what Vitale called “Little League errors” by the young players, the Eagles have rolled off five consecutive wins, including scoring 10 against Clearwater, 17 against Nature Coast and 28 against Weeki Wachee.
“We’ve played pretty well,” Vitale said. “By the time the season is winding down, we should be at full strength, and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”