Check this: Durant gets crucial call in 6-5 win at Plant City

By Bob Bellone
Senior Staff Writer

PLANT CITY – The Durant Cougars took a walk on the wild side Wednesday evening – all the way to a berth in the Class 7A-District 6 championship game.

Fast forward to the final inning of a dramatic 6-5 road victory against crosstown rival Plant City. Raiders starting pitcher Adan Longoria – who had just tied the game at 5 with a two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth – quickly retired the first two Cougars in the seventh.

Suddenly nothing went the way of the junior right-hander, who had allowed only four hits to that point. Durant loaded the bases on consecutive singles by Dylan LaPointe, Carlos Morales and Gavin Florio. Brett Martin stood in next, worked a full count, then walked in the winning run when a questionable checked swing was ruled in his favor by the first base umpire.

“I felt like it could go either way,” Martin said of the call, “but it went on our side, so everything went good for us. It saved our season.”

Cougars coach Butch Valdes agreed the decision could have gone either way.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m going to go with them because I think they missed one earlier, so it is what it is. Maybe that was my payback.”

Now down 6-5 and its season on the line, Plant City found hope when Jackson VanDerZee collected his second double and fourth hit in as many plate appearances. Courtesy runner Landen Robert reached third on a Zane Wright single, but winning pitcher Blaine Rowland escaped on a double play to the right side.

“I wanted that right there,” said second baseman Nick April-Gath, who pulled down a high bouncer, tagged Wright, then threw to first for the final out. “I knew it was coming to me. I got that.”

The semifinal actually began Tuesday night, but it was suspended with Plant City ahead 3-1 after two innings with lightning in the vicinity.

Durant (16-8) struck quickly for its run. April-Gath stroked the first pitch of the game into left field for a double, took second on a bunt by Avery Cherry and came around on a two-out single by Morales. The run snapped a string of 17 consecutive scoreless innings against Plant City pitchers in a pair of regular-season losses.

Plant City (17-7) responded with three runs in its half of the first against senior right-hander Torin Byrnes, who did not return to the mound Wednesday. Leadoff batter Deven Gonzalez reached on an infield error, advanced two bases on a single by Colin Shultz and scored on the first VanDerZee double. Colin Pellicer, the courtesy runner for Shultz, crossed with the second run on a passed ball, and Wyatt Fordham drove in VanDerZee with a sacrifice fly.

Back on the diamond Wednesday, Durant regained its one-run edge with three unearned runs in the fourth. LaPointe made it 5-3 with his fifth home run of the season, a solo shot in the fifth.

“It was a curveball away,” LaPointe said. “I saw it out of his hand, so I just sat back on it a little bit longer and took it the way it came. We all went crazy after that home run.”

In the other semifinal, top-seeded Newsome (17-5) eliminated Lakewood Ranch, 1-0. The Wolves will host Durant in the district title game Thursday at 7 p.m.

Class 7A-District 6 Semifinal ⚾

Durant 6
(2) Plant City 5

D    100|310|1 – |6|7|1
PC 300|002|0 – |5|9|3
W – Rowland; L – Longoria (3-3)
2B – April-Gath (D); VanDerZee 2 (PC); HR – LaPointe (D); Longoria (PC). Records – D (16-8); PC (17-7).