Central coach Benny Martinez has seen his team struggle to stay at .500 most of the season, so the Bears' role as underdog Friday night was even more obvious than usual.
"Before the game, somebody told me, "There's no way we can beat Hernando,' and I said, "There never is, but we always do each year,'
" said Martinez, whose Bears surprised the state-ranked Leopards with a 3-1 win at Tom Varn Park.
Central (8-6) capitalized on Hernando fielding errors and limited its own mistakes, protecting a strong pitching performance by Jen Clark.
"Jen was not going to be denied," Martinez said. "And the defense rallied around her. I had freshmen making two of the last three outs for us."
Martinez has struggled to make up for the loss of last year's senior twins, Jen and Jamie Pape, who are playing at Rollins College. Both were in the crowd Friday, and Martinez said their cheering gave the Bears a major lift. "I think Jen and Jamie had a lot to do with pumping them up."
Hernando coach Ernie Chatman, who has split the regular season against Central the last two years, said there were many reasons why the game didn't go the Leopards' way.
"We just didn't play good enough to win," Chatman said. "It wasn't that we played horrible, but we didn't hit the ball well with people on base."
Hernando pitcher Chrissy Hartley "was good, but she wasn't her dominating self the way she's been lately, and maybe we've gotten spoiled a little," Chatman said. "Maybe this will prompt us to focus a little bit more. We'll see."
ANOTHER BIG WIN: Springstead's district success continued last week as the Eagles rallied to upset state-ranked Clearwater 8-7 and improve to 4-3 in district play.
Springstead (4-10) overcame a 7-3 deficit and won in the bottom of the seventh when Vicki Albert drove in Emily Eicholtz, who had reached base with a single.
The Eagles have two more district games this week. They faced Tarpon Springs on Tuesday and have Land O'Lakes on Thursday.
ON SECOND THOUGHT: Central was scheduled to play in the Brandon Spring Fling Tournament this weekend, but Martinez called Monday to let the host team know he wouldn't be able to participate.
Tournament play requires pitching depth, and both of Central's pitchers are hampered by injuries. Clark has been limited by a sore back, and senior Riki Aulozzi was walking on crutches Tuesday with a sprained ankle.
Without those two, Martinez thought the tournament wasn't in the team's best interests.
"I don't feel like taking on any more losses for foolishness," the coach said.
Freshman Tanya Stevenson was to make her first start of the season Tuesday night at Citrus, and Martinez hoped his pitchers would be fully recovered by Central's games next week.
UP AND DOWN: Speedy sophomore twins Tamara and Thalia Tatham have been menaces on the base paths for the Bears.
But Tamara approached Martinez last week and asked to be shifted to the junior varsity team, where she would have more playing time.
"She said she wanted to get a little seasoning and play more with the JV," said Martinez, who called Tatham back up because of the injuries to Clark and Aulozzi.
BIG WEEKEND: Chatman has a tough decision in deciding who to pitch in games Friday and Saturday against district rival Dunnellon and Miami Pace.
Dunnellon handed fourth-ranked Hernando its first loss last month. A second loss would put the Leopards two games behind Dunnellon, which would have a tie-breaker advantage from the regular-season sweep.
But if Chatman throws Hartley (7-1) Friday, he wouldn't have her Saturday against Pace.
"Is a district game more important?" Chatman said. "It would be kind of disappointing to play a team of (Pace's) caliber and not throw Chrissy against them."
Luckily for Chatman, he has several pitchers he can use in either game. Kimi Olmstead is working to regain the form that made her dominant two years ago, and sophomore Carolyn Gant and freshmen Ashley Baldwin and Christen Baldwin are available.
_ GREG AUMAN