SPRING HILL - Springstead did not need any more motivation, arriving in the playoffs with a 17-game unbeaten streak and a fine shot at a first state tournament.
Gulf provided it anyway, then found out how good the Eagles are.
Springstead won 3-1 Thursday in the Class 4A regional quarterfinal, advancing to the semifinals for the third consecutive year. Tuesday it will play Freedom, 2-0 winners over Bartow in Tampa.
Against the Buccaneers, Springstead scored three goals in the first half, then fought through a choppy second half that threatened to get very ugly at the end. Multiple pushes and shoves punctuated the final eight minutes, bringing police onto the field.
"It was obvious they were getting frustrated because we were just pounding the net," senior midfielder Devin Shaw said. "They were trying to take their anger out on us."
Springstead (19-1-2) had a 13-shot first half. George Kirshy put the Eagles on the board 3:30 into the game, heading in a cross from Tristan Lowery.
Novica Maric answered for Gulf (14-10-3) four minutes later with a blast from 20 yards out, his 53rd goal of the season. But Springstead continued to create good opportunities and in the 20th minute Kirshy (26 goals on the year) headed in a throw from Ian Wald.
Shaw completed the scoring in the 30th minute on a charge through the middle of Gulf's defense, ending with a shot off the fingertips of goaltender Cellin Neptune.
"This has been what we've did since district play, we came out, set the tempo quickly, put them in a hole and then just pressure, pressure, pressure," Springstead coach Sal Calabrese said.
Calabrese found pregame fuel for the Eagles through a Pasco Times story quoting Gulf coach Sam Koleduk, who said if Springstead played in Pasco "I don't think they'd be 18-1-2."
"That's the best team we've played," Koleduk said after the game. "I think they could find themselves in the final four, definitely."
Calabrese said: "I have to give him credit for at least saying that."