Springstead softball coach Craig Swartout had a pretty good feeling before the season started that his defense would be special. But even Swartout wasn't prepared for the staggering efficiency the Eagles have shown in keeping opponents off the scoreboard. In 21 regular-season contests, Springstead (19-2) has given up 34 runs, an average of fewer than two a game. The Eagles have recorded eight shutouts this season. They've held five teams to a single run. Which begs the question: Is it Springstead's defense or the pitching of ace Alexis Adams that has led to the Eagles' stinginess? Call it a 50/50 split.
"Alexis has really thrown the ball extremely well this year," Swartout said. "Her won-loss (19-2) total and ERA reflect that. You have to attribute the other half to the way the infield has played. We've got some infielders that are just incredible. They're great. They make every play. That makes it a lot easier."
In the pitcher's circle stands Adams, the hard-throwing junior who has pitched in every game for Springstead since transferring from Nature Coast between her freshman and sophomore year.
Adams can throw five pitches and keeps the ball away from the middle of the plate.
"She's elevated her game from last year," Swartout said. "She's added a couple of pitches. It makes things a lot easier when she's throwing strikes. As a coach, you don't have to be as fine. If we get down in the count and we have an unfavorable count, three balls and a strike or whatever, we don't have any problem throwing the ball in the strike zone. If they hit it, that's fine because the defense can back her up."
That defense has been anchored by the middle infield, with a pair of juniors in second baseman Lizzy Markidis and shortstop Brittany Martinez.
"They've been playing softball with me since I was 9 years old and have been playing those same positions, too," Adams said.
At third base, Hailey Drawe occupies the position her older sister, Amanda, held last year for Springstead. Hailey has a strong arm and good lateral movement.
First baseman Shannon Cataldo, the lone senior in the infield, has good range and a strong arm. Behind the plate, sophomore Kelsey Straquidine has started every game.
The outfield, dominated by underclassmen, struggled early. The Eagles gave up 18 of their 34 runs in the first four games, but since then they have settled and added to the team's defensive strength.
"The outfield had some growing pains early on, but they've progressed to a point now where we're a tough team to score on," Swartout said.
Springstead earned the top seed for the district tournament by going 6-0 in 5A-7 play. The Eagles won a school record 15 straight games at one point.
There are still bumps in the road though.
In Springstead's next-to-last regular-season game against county rival Hernando, the Eagles committed four errors. The result: four runs allowed for the first time since the fourth game of the season (Feb. 17).
"We didn't get started," Swartout said. "We made a couple of errors, which is uncharacteristic for us. It's been a long season. You're going to run into spurts like that. We got it out of the way, and we're ready to move on."
Which the Eagles hope involves a move deep into the postseason.
5A-7 At West Port
Tuesday: Ocala Forest (3) at West Port (2), 7 p.m.; Central (4) at Springstead (1), 7; Thursday: Final, 7 (at West Port)
4A-8 at Tom Varn Park, Brooksville
Monday: Land O'Lakes (9) vs. Zephyrhills (8), 3 p.m.; Nature Coast (7) vs. River Ridge (2), 5; Sunlake (1) vs. Land O'Lakes/Zephyrhills winner, 7; Tuesday: Lecanto (5) vs. Wiregrass Ranch (4), 5; Citrus (6) vs. Hernando (3), 7; Wednesday: Nature Coast/River Ridge winner vs. Citrus/Hernando winner, 5; Land O'Lakes/Zephyrhills/Sunlake winner vs. Lecanto/Wiregrass Ranch winner, 7; Thursday: Final, 7
4A-7 at Anclote
Monday: Wesley Chapel (8) vs. Pasco (1), 5 p.m.; Anclote (7) vs. Mitchell (2), 7; Tuesday: Fivay (6) vs. Gulf (3), 5; Ridgewood (5) vs. Hudson (4), 7; Wednesday: Fivay/Gulf winner vs. Anclote/Mitchell winner, 5; Wesley Chapel/Pasco winner vs. Ridgewood/Hudson winner, 7; Friday: Final, 7
2A-10 at Indian Rocks Christian
Tuesday: Brooks-DeBartolo (3) vs. Indian Rocks Christian (2), 2 p.m.; Tampa Prep (4) vs. Bishop McLaughlin (1), 4:30; Thursday: Final, 4:30
A-9 at Canterbury
Monday: Lakeside Christian (5) vs. Carrollwood Day (4), 5 p.m.; Tuesday: Academy at the Lakes (3) vs. Cambridge (2), 4:30; Canterbury (1) vs. Lakeside/Carrollwood Day winner, 6:30; Thursday: Final, 6:30
A-8 at Bradenton Christian
Tuesday: Bayshore Christian (4) vs. Hernando Christian (1), 1 p.m.; Seffner Christian (3) vs. Bradenton Christian (2), 4; Thursday: Final, 4:30