RIDGE MANOR — Sure, the state tournament was being held in Hernando County, and Spring Hill Dixie could have been considered a home team, but the Americans couldn't even win their own district title. So who would've thought they had any shot against the best the state had to offer?
Spring Hill did.
The team never stopped believing. They didn't lose faith after dropping a game to South Lake Dixie 11-3 in their first loss in the District 6 tournament, nor after being slammed by the same South Lake team 15-3 in the district championship game.
"Our attitude was really high," coach Shawn Laferty said. "This is a good ball club, and these kids really believe in themselves."
It was easy to see how Spring Hill was overmatched, even if you only accounted for the fact that South Lake was in the field. Also, a Hernando County Dixie team hadn't won a title in the Triple-A Majors tournament's 53-year history.
It was some remarks from Laferty before the event that got Spring Hill rolling from the start. Opening wins over Ridge Manor (13-3) and South Walton (11-1) also helped build the team's confidence.
"I sat them all down right before the first game and told them what I believed," Laferty said. "I said we were one of the best teams and I knew we could win the whole thing."
The offense was rolling behind the bat of Vito Tambasco with a team-leading seven postseason home runs. But it was his grand slam that spurred the rout of South Walton in the second game of the tournament.
It's possible the most instrumental game for Spring Hill took place five nights before the state championship. It was that Monday night the team squared off for the third time against South Lake. This time around, the results were much different.
"That game was a real turning point for us," Laferty said. "(South Lake) jumped on us early, but we showed a lot by coming back and winning that night."
The 8-5 comeback win gave hard proof in the minds of the Americans that its lineup could hang with the best teams in the field. The proof was supported in another win over an undefeated district champ when Spring Hill took out Okeechobee 8-4 the following night.
The Americans won their semifinal contest Thursday and found themselves in the long-awaited championship game. Because South Lake had already dropped a game in the tournament and Spring Hill was undefeated, the Americans needed only to win one-of-two games to capture the elusive state crown.
A measure of doubt may have crept in early Friday night. South Lake was able to overtake the Americans 4-3 behind a solo homer from pitcher Danny Gonzalez in the top of the sixth and final inning.
"We really didn't know if we could (beat South Lake)," catcher Austin Treverton said. "We were all pretty down, but some of the guys started talking, and we started getting excited again."
The team went right back to work in the winner-take-all finale.
Tambasco was not going to allow his team to lose. On the mound, he tossed a complete game and struck out 10 batters. At the plate, he hit two homers and added three RBIs to lead the team to a 5-4 win.
The championship was in hand, but it's far from over. Spring Hill will now travel to LaGrange, Ga., for the Dixie World Series on Aug. 4. Do they have any kind of shot at upsets there?
"I don't understand why anyone would underestimate us," Laferty said. "We have great characters and chemistry on this club. We're always loose, so nothing they do really surprises me."
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