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Spanish River rallies past Tampa Plant, completes Cinderella season with 7A state softball title

Spanish River’s girls’ softball team capped off an improbable run by winning the FHSAA Class 7A state championship on Saturday afternoon with a 3-2 victory over Tampa Plant at Legends Way Ball Fields in Clermont.

The Sharks (17-8-1) entered the final four ranked 94th overall in Florida and 23rd in Class 7A.

Undaunted, Spanish River stunned the nation’s 13th-ranked Lake Brantley (24-4) 13-9 in eight innings on Friday night and followed it up with the victory over the state’s fifth-ranked Tampa Plant (27-4) in the title game for the first state championship in the sport in school history.

Spanish River, which at one point in the season lost five of six games with three starters out with injuries, stayed the course, according to Sharks coach Ashley Byrd, who completed her 14th season.

“It’s amazing. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the girls. It is super exciting because we only have two seniors, one who started for us and the other, who was unable to make the trip to state.”

Until this season, the Sharks had never made it past the regional semifinals and had only won three total postseason games.

Byrd said she kept telling the players, “We are going to peak. We are going to peak, and we had to keep pushing through to the peak, and today we peaked, obviously at the right time.

“This is the first time in school history that they won a state softball championship, so it is obviously big for the school and the girls themselves,” Byrd added. “It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to win a state championship. They obviously play travel on the weekends like everyone else, but this isn’t the same experience.”

Spanish River sophomore pitcher Giselle Portanova pitched her second straight complete game and budgeted the Panthers to six hits and two walks.

“I don’t even know how to describe how I’m feeling right now,” Portanova said by phone. “All of this feels so surreal. This team has overcome so much this season and I’m so proud of every single one of our girls.

“After losing our first game of districts, we didn’t think we’d have a second chance to show how good we really are,” said Portanova, whose team was seeded seventh in 7A based on its strength of schedule.

“Ever since then, we never gave up. We played so many amazing teams along the way and I couldn’t be any prouder. Being state champions for the first time in school history is an amazing feeling and I can’t wait to see what we do next year.”

Senior catcher Isabella Santos called the victory the best feeling in the world. The Sharks won their final five games of the year after falling to Boca Raton 2-1 in the district opener.

“I’ve been playing this sport for 11 years and nothing has compared to that feeling of getting the final out in the seventh inning,” catcher Isabella Santos said. Santos went 2 for 3 with a double, team-leading 10th home run of the season, and two RBIs. “Three weeks ago, we were all crying because we thought we were eliminated after losing the first round of districts, but we got a second chance and ever since that moment there was a fire under everyone’s butt.

“We worked for this every single day everyone showed up and wanted it and the team who wants it more will always win,” she continued. “There is no better way I would want to end my high school career than winning the state championship with this amazing group of girls.”

It was the third loss in the state championship game for Tampa Plant, which entered the game on an 18-game winning streak. The Panthers also fell in 1991 and 2000.

The game was scoreless until the top of the third inning when senior Isabella Santos drilled a home run just inside the right field foul pole for a 1-0 lead.

Tampa Plant answered in the bottom of the fourth on a leadoff single by Abby Lucas to take a 2-1 lead. Lucas went to third and Gracie Ciccarello to second on an obstruction call.

Graci Quinlan singled to center to score Lucas and advance Ciccarello to third and Teagan Reilly hit a sacrifice fly to give the Panthers the lead.

The Sharks’ Sophia Camacho reached on a leadoff single in the sixth and went to third on a double by Santos. Tamsin Scarrett knocked in Camacho with a base hit and Julia Massarella knocked in Marley Ruggiero from third on a safety squeeze with the go-ahead run.

Lake Brantley was No. 3 in Florida overall and No. 1 in state Class 7A. The Sharks were the 7th-ranked team in their own region and at one point last month had lost five of six games.

Wellington ousted in extra innings in semifinal

Tampa Plant reached the state championship by knocking off Wellington, 2-1 in eight innings.

The Wolverines (20-2-1) had seized a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth as Sophomore Kaylee Riles knocked in senior Kaitlyn Campbell in the top of the fourth for a 1-0 lead before the Panthers rallied to tie it in the sixth on an RBI double by senior Gracie Ciccarello and won it in extra innings on a two-out single by senior Lauren Luciani in the bottom of the eighth.

Wellington coach Mark Boretti said he expected to reach the final four after falling in the regional final last season to Park Vista.

“They are a unique group who bonded and became one,” Boretti said by phone. “We played a great game. Our pitching and defense were great, but we only had three hits and one run.

“The game could have gone either way but went to Plant in the eighth,” he added. “They had two, big 2-out RBIs. Our pitching was super, we just needed a couple of big hits but it didn’t happen tonight. It was a great season for us.”

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