BRANDON — In a tournament full of exciting endings, Brandon had one more encore Friday night.
The story of the 28th annual Saladino Tournament was the resilience a young Eagles team — a group with seven sophomore starters — showed against the county's best.
And this time, with a school- record sixth Saladino title at stake, the answer came in dramatic fashion. Few would have predicted these Eagles would survive the county's historic tournament, but that's the way Brandon likes it.
"Tell us we won't and we'll do it," Brandon catcher Michael Smith said.
Smith broke a tie score in the top of the eighth inning, hitting a towering home run to leftfield, and three batters later Spencer Haynes' RBI single scored the final run to lift the Eagles to a 5-3 win over Hillsborough.
Freshman reliever Chase Sparkman earned his second win in as many games, finishing the final 12/3 innings. The Terriers had tied it with two runs in the seventh, capped by David Richardson's third homer of the tournament, tying a Saladino record.
"It's just been unbelievable how we've been in the same situation over and over," Brandon coach Matt Stallbaumer said. "We gave up the lead. The way this team answered and found a way to push the runs across was so impressive."
"Everybody put us down, but we came back," Sparkman said.
The Eagles' remarkable run included wins over county heavyweight Plant and Alonso — arguably the top teams in Hillsborough County — and another emotional win over the upstart Terriers.
"It was two hot teams," Hillsborough coach Kenny White said. "Something had to give. We were a hop away."
Four Brandon players —Smith, Sparkman and first baseman Roderick Shoulders — made the all-tournament team. Sophomore centerfielder James Ramsay was named the tournament MVP after setting a Saladino record for hits in a tournament, going 13-for-19.
"I'm in awe," Ramsay said. "I can't believe it."
Asked where he was this time last year, Sparkman said, "probably sitting on my couch."
But as Brandon started piling up wins, new heroes emerged on a daily basis. Parents hung over the fences and clutched the backstop. And the Eagles delivered over and over.
"That's the way we've been dictating tempo," Stallbaumer said. "We always had an answer. …At the end, it was 'We have to do something here.' We were holding there and holding there and then we just flipped the switch."