Former Springstead coach Carmine Rufa remembers turning to assistant Mike Eicholtz a couple of years ago after Katie Mottola signed with Pasco-Hernando Community College, becoming the first Eagle to earn a college softball scholarship.
"This is the first of many to come," Rufa said.
The second came Tuesday, when senior catcher Caitlin DeCristofaro announced her decision to accept a full athletic scholarship to attend St. Petersburg College.
DeCristofaro made her choice in the fall, and signed the papers a couple of weeks ago. But she announced her decision Tuesday while wearing a purple and green tie-dyed SPC jersey and posing for pictures with her parents, Jerry and Kathy, Rufa, current Springstead coach Craig Swartout and SPC coach Lance Lamport in principal Dot Dodge's office.
"I worked my whole life for this, and to get a full ride was like a dream come true," DeCristofaro said.
DeCristofaro chose SPC over Florida Gulf Coast University and Polk Community College. She said SPC's reputation _ it won state championships five of the past six seasons _ and proximity to home were factors in her decision.
"As soon as I got this offer, I was like, "This is a full ride, I've got to go,' " DeCristofaro said.
She earned Times All-Citrus/Hernando first-team recognition and all-state honorable mention last season after batting .396 with 6 doubles and 15 RBIs despite missing time with a broken thumb. DeCristofaro drove in the decisive run in a district championship victory over Central and was a key contributor on a Springstead squad that set a a school record for victories (19) and won its first playoff game.
"She's exceeded all expectations," said Rufa, who coached DeCristofaro the past three seasons. "She's started since she was a freshman and improved a little bit every year, and now she's a top-notch player, without a doubt, state-wide."
DeCristofaro's improvement continued this summer, when she worked in the weight room, on the track and on the field to improve her quickness, footwork and release in preparation for college.
"I think her biggest asset is her attitude," Swartout said. "You can tell that every minute we're out there on the field, she's just loving it. She has that mindset that she just wants to get a little bit better every day, no matter what it is."
DeCristofaro said she began to consider the possibility of playing in college when she made the Clearwater Bullets travel team at age 15. She was playing for the squad this past summer when Lamport first spotted her.
"Every time we saw her play, she played well," Lamport said.
DeCristofaro expects to battle for the starting catching spot at SPC. She will see action regardless, since the Titans play 45 games in the fall and 65 between February and April, creating a need for more than one catcher.
SPC, formerly St. Petersburg Junior College, is a four-year school that plays two-year softball. The school has sent players to Division I schools such as Florida State (catcher Andi Lyons) and produced 2002 NAIA first-team (St. Thomas University's Mindi Harris) and second-team (Houston Baptist's Erin Bolton ) All-Americans.
DeCristofaro plans to study athletic training. After two years at SPC, she hopes to transfer to a Division I program.
"Hopefully, it will get me out there and we'll win a few games, win some championships and it will get me some individual recognition and get my name out there so that I can further myself," DeCristofaro said.
Frank Pastor can be reached at (800) 333-7505, ext. 1430. Send e-mail to pastorsptimes.com.