CLERMONT – They came so far. They came so close.
But ultimately, like a pair of fly balls hit by Sylvia Burroughs and Anna Brait that initially looked like they were going over the fence at Legends Way Ballfields, the Viera High softball team came up just a little short.
Winter Springs scored two runs in the top of the seventh inning and held on to defeat the Hawks 2-0 in the Class 6A state semifinals Friday morning in Clermont.
“I thought we fought our butts off,” Viera coach Alex Breeden said. “Those two balls that Sylvia and Anna hit, if it’s any other field that’s not on top of a hill where the wind holds it up, it’s a 3-0 ballgame.
“All the credit to (Winter Springs). They played fantastically. Their pitcher threw fantastically. I thought we had a tough call go against in that last inning.
“But the girls … they gave me everything they had. They competed their butts off one (inning) through seven. They laid it on the on the line and the other team, today, they were better. That’s how this game works.”
Viera (17-7) had not given up a run in 28 consecutive innings before the Bears (22-7) managed to break through. But as Breeden alluded to, it wasn’t without a little controversy.
Winter Springs had a runner on first with two out when a ground ball was hit to second baseman Amaya Pitt, who flipped the ball to Brait at short in an attempt to get a double play, but Viera only got one out.
The Hawks argued the runner should have been ruled out for interference on the play, which would have ended the inning. Instead, Winter Springs got another chance and came through with an RBI triple, followed by a run-scoring single for the game’s only runs.
Up until that point, the Hawks and pitcher Skylar Waggoner had been tremendous at shutting down Winter Springs in key moments.
The Bears had runners on base in all but one inning and, in the third, had two runners on with the heart of their lineup coming up. But the Hawks worked out of it with Waggoner coming back from a 3-0 count to get a strikeout to end the inning.
In the fifth, Winter Springs got a one-out double and Viera intentionally walked the next two hitters to load the bases … and got out of it.
The Hawks, meanwhile, struggled with Winter Springs pitcher Ashlyn Storms, who held Viera to just three hits.
But in the bottom of the sixth, it looked like Viera was going to break through.
Jaydin Gentile got her second hit of the game and one batter later, Burroughs crushed one toward right field. The ball looked like it was going out until Winter Springs right fielder Sky Ramos went racing back, put her hand on the fence and pulled the ball into her glove.
One batter later, Brait drove a ball to left field that also looked like it had a chance to go out until hit the wind, which was blowing straight in, and landed in the outfielder’s glove.
“I definitely did (think it was going out),” Brait said. “That was one of many me and my team hit out today. The wind was not in our favor. What are you going to do?”
After a somewhat frustrating end to the regular season, the Hawks really caught fire in the playoffs, posting three straight shutouts – including a 3-0 win over rival Melbourne in the regional semifinals – to reach the final four for the second time in program history.
“We did give it our hardest and we are proud of where we came,” third baseman Morgan Mordas said.
Mordas, who was a freshman on the last Viera team to play in a state semifinal, is the only senior on this year’s roster.
“I’m just thankful for the team,” she said. “I think they’re going to do great things next year.”
While the Hawks will certainly have plenty of talent coming back, replacing Mordas’ leadership and all-around play won’t be easy.
“She was one of the biggest pieces of this team,” Brait said. “She’s definitely going to be missed. Someone’s going to have to step up next year and fill that spot, which is going to be really difficult to do.”
If there’s any group that knows a little something about stepping up, it’s this one. After all, the Hawks lost both of their previous meetings with Melbourne – including the district final – and managed to not only come back and beat the Bulldogs, but make it all the way to Clermont.
As Breeden said, there was never a moment during the postseason when the moment seemed too much for them.
“The last thing I told them was that physical adjustments, those are easy things to make if you’re an athlete,” Breeden said. “It should be anyway, if you’re a quality athlete.
“Mental adjustments, mental hurdles … not everybody can do that. They made a big mental adjustment after we played Melbourne for that second time. They were scared that first time. The third time, they figured it out.
“They figured out how to slow their minds, how to live in the moment, how to trust themselves and their teammates and that’s the reason why they got to this point.”
You can bet the Hawks will be motivated to get back to Clermont again, only with a different result.
“Definitely,” Brait said. “This year, we made it to the final four. It wasn’t exactly as far as we wanted to go, our goal. But, hey, we’ll be back in the fall working for this exact weekend next year.”