BRANDON — The Brandon Eagles fell one game short of reaching the state title game last week, losing to eventual state champion Dunedin 16-3 in the semifinals.
But the team that started seven sophomores and posted an early-season 9-6 record proved many people wrong by capturing the prestigious Tony Saladino Tournament and making a deep postseason run.
Coach Matt Stallbaumer and some key Eagles (25-7) take a look back at the season:
Coach Matt Stallbaumer
What was going through your mind toward the end of the Dunedin game?
When it became evident that we weren't going to win that one, I just wanted to make sure we got everyone in the game and they got to experience what was going on.
What's the best team you faced all year?
I don't know about that. We played some tough teams just from this area, but (Dunedin pitcher Max Kreuter) was the best lefty we faced. And that's no shot at (Alonso lefty Alex) Panteliodis, but the Dunedin kid stayed away from our big guys all night and that was what he needed to do. He was really tough.
As a coach, what's your favorite moment of the season?
When Spencer Haynes homered with two outs in the seventh in the (regional quarterfinal) game against Wesley Chapel. I was in the third base box and was starting to prepare an end-of-season speech. When he hit it, it was just awesome. Then Mike Smith homered in the eighth for the win to cap it all off.
When did you realize that this team could make a run at the state championship?
Probably when I got to the field during Saladino that Monday after all the rain. The kids were there getting the field ready before I even showed up at 8 (a.m.). I've had some talented teams here in my six years that did what I asked them to do, but it was clear this team was something special when they were there. Rain wasn't going to stop them from playing and winning that tournament.
What was the mood of the team after the loss to Dunedin?
Just total disappointment. We had worked so hard all year and had such a good year, it was disappointing that it all had to end.
What was it like in the dugout as Dunedin started piling on the runs?
It was hard to sit and watch, really. We just wish we had another shot at them because on another day, we could have beaten them.
What's your favorite moment this season?
It was getting to pitch in my first high school game against Newsome. We were down something like four runs when I came in and were down 6-1 in the last inning. We came back to beat them in the seventh and it was real cool being a part of that.
What was the team motto this year?
Desire. Determination. Dedication. And Discipline. We called them the four D's.
What were you feeling when the Dunedin game ended?
When we scored (two runs) in the first and took the lead, I thought we'd be okay. We had the momentum but then (Dunedin) just broke loose. Our pitching had been so good all season but we just couldn't produce enough runs.
What's your favorite memory this season?
The game in Saladino against Plant. I had two hits and a diving catch where I doubled off the guy at first. Just because of the atmosphere and the talent Plant had, people started to see what we were capable of.
What do you anticipate for next year?
Oh, man, people are going to expect us to come out and kill everybody. But it's a lot harder [with] a target on your back than it is to chase the target.
Position: First base
You guys had so many comeback wins this year, when did you think the game against Dunedin was out of hand?
When we were down 6-2, I still thought we were in good shape and even down 8-2, I still thought we had a chance.
Does it make you feel any better that you lost to the eventual state champions?
You can look at it both ways, but it makes me feel a little better.
You hit six home runs this year. Which one stands out in your mind?
The one I hit (in the region semifinal) against Winter Haven. It was the farthest one I hit this season and in a big game.