Class 8A-District 6 and 8A-District 4 play is set to begin April 23 and 24, respectively.
Durant and Plant City will open up tournament play in the Class 8A-District 6 bracket April 23, while Strawberry Crest will kick things off the following evening. Both the Raiders and Chargers are hosting their respective tournaments in 2018.
The Cougars and Raiders’ district is not easy to come out of. With the Bloomingdale Bulls turning in a solid season (18-6; 6-2 district) and an East Bay team (12-12; 4-4 district) that has the ability to hang with the top dogs, the Plant City-area teams will have their work cut out for them. Extra pressure is on the Raiders, who are defending the crown won in the 2016-17 postseason’s state final four run.
Plant City is well-equipped for the tournament, with 17 wins in the bag against five losses and the best runs scored-to-allowed differential in the district — 162 scored, 34 allowed through 22 games. An efficient defense and the arm of star junior Ashley Blessin (15-5, 0.82 ERA) could certainly help the Raiders repeat.
District play, however, has been an area where the Raiders haven’t dominated. The team has a 4-4 record in district play, third-best in 8A-6, and has lost to Bloomingdale (twice), Durant and East Bay. Plant City did finish regular-season district play on a high note with a 6-0 win at East Bay on April 12, though, and the team is undoubtedly hoping to ride that wave in next week’s action.
Durant may have a 12-10 overall record at the end of the regular season, but the Cougars turned a corner in March and look like a “dark horse” team to keep an eye on. The team owns a 5-3 district record (good for second place behind 5-2 Bloomingdale) and has scored the second-most runs — 52 — of all teams in 8A-6 play. The Cougars went 3-1 in their last four district games and came out ahead in a shootout against Bloomingdale (14-8) between blowout wins over Plant City (7-1) and East Bay (6-0).
The offense, led by the hot bat of two-sport athlete Kayla Lissy, is capable of producing the kind of firepower that can win most any game. If Durant and Plant City meet in a rematch of last year’s semifinal, that game could be the most exciting of the entire tournament.
It hasn’t been the best season for the Strawberry Crest Chargers (10-14; 2-4 district), who sit in third place in the 8A-4 standings and have scored and allowed 24 runs in district play. They’ve also got a pair of tough matchup possibilities with Wharton and Freedom, which have both won at least 13 games. Wharton (13-5; 6-0 district) looks particularly fearsome in the bracket.
In Crest’s last three district games, the team has a 1-2 record. But that includes a pair of close calls at home against Freedom (5-3) and Wharton (2-1), plus a 4-1 win at Wiregrass Ranch on April 5. The Chargers have been tougher to play at home than on the road, and they’re now about to play a district tournament on their own turf. They also have perhaps the best position player in the tournament in middle infielder Taylor Finney, who leads all 8A-4 players with a .455 batting average, 35 hits and four triples in 24 games.
The 8A-6 tournament will start at 6 p.m. April 23 and 8A-4 tournament kicks off at 4 p.m. April 24. Both will conclude with 7 p.m. championship games on April 26.