DUNEDIN — This was for the believers. For Zach Gordon, Will Fulmer and the rest of East Lake seniors who spent their high school careers beneath a boulder that kept rolling down a hill.
This was an exorcism of four years of anguish.
The Eagles, who had not known what it was like to beat Dunedin since 2006, jumped out to a lead Friday night and — more important — did not relinquish it in an 8-7 victory.
"It's the biggest win that any of us have been a part of," said Gordon, who started on the mound.
Until Friday night, East Lake (13-4) had a wretched recent history against the Falcons.
The Eagles had lost games in every imaginable way: tight games, routs, heart-wrenching comebacks. Nothing was more anguishing than last week's game, when East Lake let a 7-0 lead slip away in the bottom of the seventh inning in the final of the Dunedin Spring Invitational.
Friday's game started eerily the same. Again, the Eagles grabbed the lead, going up 3-0 in the first inning. Dunedin (15-3) kept it close, scoring twice in the third inning to make it 3-2.
Then East Lake added a few more runs, scoring once in the fifth inning and four in the sixth to go up 8-2.
But nothing comes easy against the Falcons, who rallied with three runs in the sixth to cut it to 8-5. Late in the sixth inning, Gordon was relieved by Sawyer Wilson, who finished the game.
"I was nervous coming in in that situation," Wilson said. "But I had great support from the dugout."
Dunedin continued to come back, scoring twice in the bottom of the seventh to make it a one-run game. But Wilson bore down, getting the final batter to strike out.
The victory capped a tumultuous week for the Eagles, who found out coach Mike White was told by administrators he would not be returning next season.
"As a senior I did not want to lose this game," Gordon said. "We also wanted to send our coach out on a good note."
It was another step forward, and perhaps a wave goodbye to a negative history that is fading fast.