By Jarrett Guthrie
PLANT CITY – Austin Sewell said he channeled Tampa Bay Rays World Series Game Four hero Brett Phillips as he jetted into the outfield, arms spread wide, and avoided a dogpile for a solid :30 count.
“I was trying to do my inner-Brett Phillips there, after he walked off Game 4,” Sewell said. “Do a little airplane, it was fun. I just wanted to enjoy the moment.”
The celebration was well-earned as the Cougars senior ended Tuesday’ Saladino Tournament Gold Division semifinal game against Strawberry Crest, slapping a walk-off single the opposite way into right to give his team a 3-2 victory and setup tonight’s tourney championship on the road against Jesuit.
The meeting of the two East-Hillsborough powers was, as expected, a battle throughout.
“Every time we play Crest it’s a dogfight and always comes down to the last hitter,” Sewell said. “We were ready for it and knew we would have to fight the whole way. Luckily, we put together some good at-bats that last inning and won it.”
RELATED: Walk-offs were the name of the game on Tuesday as Durant’s championship final opponent, Jesuit, got a game-winning hit off the bat of Tyler Corish to defeat Wharton. Click here to read all about that game from Mike Camunas.
Those last at-bats featuring the top of the Cougars lineup saw a walk to Thomas Allen to start it, a bruise-inducing hit-by-pitch to a squared for a bunt Luke Scolaro, and a hustle play on a bunt from Dean Hotz to load the bases for Sewell, who came through with the walk-off – the third-straight for Durant in this rivalry dating back to 2019.
But Sewell was not the only hero of the night for Durant (9-2). Senior Zander Fisk had a huge night atop his home mound, pitching a complete-game and striking out seven to earn the win.
Fisk allowed a first-inning run, and a leadoff walk in the fifth came around on him. However, it was his performance in the sixth where Crest got a leadoff walk, a hit batter and an Alex Mussenden single to load the bases, before Fisk shut the door with a pair of strikeouts, bookending a fly ball out to keep the Chargers from scoring. He punctuated the final strike-three looking call with a huge yell and fist pump off the mound toward his dugout.
“I can’t even say enough good things about him,” Sewell said of Fisk’s performance on the mound. “I’m super-proud of him. He went out there and pitched tonight – that sixth inning where he got those three outs – that was it. We had the momentum from there.”
Fisk said the emotions of the moment hit him and he felt that it sparked the coming events for his team.
“That was a big battle with those last three hitters,” Fisk said. “I had to let out a ton of emotion there, because after that I knew we were going to win this game.”
Strawberry Crest (10-2) opened the game with a run in the first as senior Colby Fanning led off the game with a single, and then the Chargers moved him to third with the next two productive outs, before junior Ethan Pues plated the run with a single to left.
Durant answered in the home-half with two as the top of the lineup started the game with its offense firing, and Sewell drove in the first with an RBI sac fly, before Javy Quintana singled in another.
After that first inning, Chargers sophomore Luke Richardson settled in and pitched a really strong game. The young righty allowed just the two runs in five-plus innings of work, scattering five hits.
The Chargers tied the game in the fifth when Cristian Bolt’s ground ball up-the middle allowed speed-up runner Jace Raburn to score. Crest turned to another sophomore, Zach Redner to take over on the mound after a leadoff single from Sewell started the sixth. Redner left them loaded in the sixth, striking out two before taking the loss in the final inning.
“Our pitchers did a phenomenal job tonight,” Crest coach Eric Beattie said. “We made a lot of mistakes in that first inning, but Luke battled the entire game, and Zach came in for a very stressful situation and stayed composed. Our pitchers gave us a chance to win.”
Another pivotal play that swung in the Cougars favor came in the top of the seventh when Bolt had singled, moved to second on a wild pitch, but was thrown out by catcher Carlos Morales trying to take third on a ball in the dirt, with a nice tag applied by the third baseman Quintana.
“It was a dirt-ball read,” Beattie said. “It was an aggressive mistake, he was going hard and it didn’t go our way this time.”
After the win, Fisk said as much as the sixth inning threat and his response fired him up, when he looked at the hitters stepping to the plate in the seventh, he felt pretty good about the outcome.
“I told one of my teammates in the dugout, ‘Sewell is going to be up this inning,’” Fisk said, “’and I know he is going to put it away.’”
Strawberry Crest 2
SC 100|010|0 – |2|6|1
D 200|000|1 – |3|6|0
W – Fisk (1-0); L – Redner (0-1).
Records – SC (10-2); D (9-2).