Story by Jarrett Guthrie
Photos by Mike Camunas
PLANT CITY – Staring down victory in the deciding game of the inaugural Hillsborough Wiffle Brawl championship series, Strawberry Crest-Black blinked making a costly error needing just one out to take the crown. That mistake gave one more shot to Plant City’s Jackson Knotts, who stepped to the plate with the bases loaded in the top of the fifth at MiniFenway on Saturday afternoon.
But unlike the Chargers defense, Knotts eyes got wide, his swing was mammoth and the blast – his 14th homer of the tournament – cleared the fence and the bases with ease as Plant City erased a seven-run deficit to claim the final win 9-8 in the best-of-three series.
The weeklong event, which was the brainchild of tournament host and 2019 Strawberry Crest alum, taking place at the backyard wiffle ball field he built back in 2018 (we featured Pues and his efforts last summer and you can read more about it by clicking here). Pues said after the COVID-19 pandemic forced an early end to the high school season, he modeled his plan after the annual Tony Saladino Baseball Tournament that meant so much to him during his Chargers career. The tournament featured 16 teams, starting out in four, four-team pools, with the top two teams in each pool advancing to knockout quarterfinal and semifinal rounds.
The Plant City team, comprised of tournament MVP Knotts, Wyatt Rogers, Nick Strickler, and Michael Byrne, entered the tournament after Day 1, filling in for a team that was unable to attend the event. Playing from behind with a forfeit loss, Plant City would cruise the rest of the way, toppling a mashing Blazers squad in the quarters, rival Durant in the semifinals, and then taking the first and third game of the championship series against Crest.
A 7-1 victory in game one, behind a pair of home runs from Knotts and Strickler, and a home run from Rogers, had Plant City looking poised to make quick work of the Chargers.
However, Strawberry Crest-Black proved a worthy foe in game two as Addison Jenkins’ three-run home run gave his team the advantage and the Chargers held on for an 8-7 win. Jenkins, earned team MVP honors behind steady pitching and defense throughout, while his father Wayne Jenkins was crucial to the teams pool-play wins before being forced from action on the final day due to injury. JJ Ham was steady throughout the week for the Chargers, Coach Eric Beattie showed he still had it with some excellent plays in centerfield and some big hacks, while Derek Linderman filled in in the championship with some crucial hits as well.
In the end though, the Raiders offense proved too much. Though keyed by Knotts, Plant City High’s golfing standout Strickler found a groove in the final two days showing that club or junk bat, he could swing it. Rogers – the lone representative from the Raiders high school baseball team – picked the right time to get hot, belting a trio of home runs in the best-of-three series and providing innings on the mound as well. Byrne, a University of Florida alum, 2017 World Series Champion, and current Reds prospect was big at the plate and on the mound throughout and charged from his position to make the championship-clinching catch in the final.