OCALA — The Springstead baseball team was in unfamiliar territory Thursday night in the Class 5A, District 7 championship against perennial playoff contender Ocala Forest, and it showed in a big way.
The Eagles, who earned their first playoff berth since 1996 on Tuesday, lost leads of 4-1 and 6-4, falling to the Wildcats 8-6.
Forest (15-12), a playoff team for nine straight seasons, took the lead for good on a homer by A.J. Mazzurco in the top of the seventh and added a much-needed insurance run later in the frame.
From there, the top-seeded Eagles (20-5) loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the seventh against freshman pitcher Ricky Page (2-0), but Brandon Brosher struck out and Christian Arroyo grounded into a fielder's choice to end the game.
"(Forest) has been in this situation before and our guys haven't," said Springstead coach Frank Vitale, whose team knocked off the Wildcats 5-3 and 10-0 in the two regular-season meetings.
"It's not a knock on our guys. We settled down and battled back, but (Forest) hit the ball well."
Arroyo's two-run homer along with two hits each from Julian Perez and Matt Adams keyed Springstead's output at the plate, but Page's strong effort out of the bullpen was huge.
"We beat a very good team who had our number during the season," said Forest coach Wayne Yancey, whose team had 12 hits on the night after managing just six in the previous two meetings with the Eagles.
Springstead scored two runs in both the second and third innings, but Forest scored three in the fourth to tie things at 4.
The Eagles added two more runs in the fifth keyed by a bases-loaded walk by Adams, but a two-run single in the sixth by Danny Timmons knotted the score once again.