BRANDON — When Hillsborough's baseball season was spiraling out of control during a span of eight losses in nine games, bickering and frustration consumed the Terriers.
They entered the Saladino Tournament three games under .500 and appeared destined for a rare down year for a proud baseball school.
But now the upstart Terriers find themselves in the tonight's tournament championship game after a 6-5 win over Tampa Catholic in Thursday's first semifinal.
"We returned seven seniors from last year," Hillsborough coach Kenny White said. "Sometimes it takes awhile for team chemistry to develop. It's not something that happens overnight. It's finally coming together for us."
And the victory ended the Crusaders' seven-game winning streak.
The Terriers (12-10) won Thursday with resilience.
Centerfielder David Richardson's eight-pitch at-bat ended in a two-out bloop single to centerfield that broke a 5-5 tie in the sixth inning. And Richardson doubled and scored two runs.
"I think we can beat anyone the way we're playing now," Richardson said. "We're playing as a team. … After winning pool play and I saw that we weren't arguing and everything was working together, I knew we'd be in the finals."
Hillsborough held a 5-2 lead going into the sixth inning, but the Crusaders scored three that inning to tie it. Then Terriers starter Marlon Mitchell stranded runners at first and second.
The next inning, Tampa Catholic threatened with the bases loaded and two outs, but Hillsborough pitcher G.C. Troncoso, who lasted just one inning in his last start Tuesday against Tampa Bay Tech, rescued the Terriers by striking out cleanup hitter Ryan Hammer to end the inning.
"He wanted to redeem himself more than anyone," White said. "He did a great job."
Tampa Catholic had runners on first and second with one out in the seventh, but Troncoso induced Brandon Mendoza into a game-ending 5-4-3 double play.
The Crusaders (15-6) stranded nine runners, including eight in scoring position.
"We just left too many guys on base," Tampa Catholic head coach Rich Arena said. "In the early going (of the tournament), that didn't happen to us."