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Moments after Riverview clinched the Class 5A, District 8 title Thursday, Spencer Andrews raced to the fence with teammates in tow and raised the trophy to the cheers of exuberant Sharks fans.
They all will get another chance to celebrate Tuesday night at 7 when Riverview hosts Ocala Forest in a 5A region quarterfinal. Coach Bill Leiby said his team could get used to a few more celebrations like last week’s.
“It was awesome. I think the crowd was into it,” Leiby said after his first district title in seven seasons at Riverview. “I think the place is going to be electric.”
The Sharks played the underdog role to the hilt in winning three games, two in dramatic fashion, to claim the district championship.
As the No. 4 seed, they nabbed a 4-3 extra-innings comeback win over Saladino champion Newsome, thanks to Mike Botto’s home run. Then they followed with Dylan Drawdy’s no-hitter in a 3-0 shutout of top-seeded Plant City. In the final, Riverview broke open a close game by erasing a 1-0 deficit with five runs in the sixth inning to defeat No. 2 Durant.
“It seems we were saving almost all our runs for late in the game,” Leiby said. “They’re firm believers in that they know the game’s not over until the last out. They have a lot of confidence late in the game.”
The only game in which Riverview did not rely on late-game heroics was Drawdy’s no-hitter. The Sharks scored all the runs they needed in their first at-bat.
“That gave me a lot of confidence and we just rode it,” said Drawdy, a junior right-hander. “The cutter was the out-pitch. I set it up with a fastball.”
That his players had plenty of gas left in the tank late in those contests is hardly surprising to Leiby. In fact, a tougher workout regimen late in the regular season was designed to keep the Sharks strong late in games.
“We upped the conditioning a little bit,” Leiby said. “We kind of figured that it was going to be hot and made sure we were mentally and physically prepared.”
A district championship sure did not look like it was in the cards as the Sharks prepared for the season. Replacing seven starters appeared a daunting task after a preseason loss to Brandon.
It did not take long, however, for Riverview to turn things in the right direction. The Sharks opened the season by winning their first three games and four of six. Among those victories was a 5-0 revenge win over Brandon.
“After (the preseason loss to Brandon) we told the kids, ‘We’re not young anymore. We’ve just got to grow up and play now,’ ” Leiby said.
Added Drawdy: “We’re on a high right now. We can hang with any team. It doesn’t matter who they are.”