By Matt Mauney | Staff Writer
The Plant City 10-11 All-Star baseball team, representing the state of Florida, won the 2012 Tournament of State Champions Wednesday night in Greenville, N.C., defeating Tennessee 4-1.
The 10-11’s are coming off winning a TOSC title last year as the 9-10 All-Stars, making Wednesday’s championship win the second in a row for the team. The All-Stars advanced to the final Tuesday with thrilling, come from behind 8-6 win over Virginia.
J.J. Gonzalez got the start on the mound in the final, pitching the whole game and allowing just one run to the Tennessee state champions from Goodlettsville, Tenn.
Florida, playing as the visiting team, put two runs on the scoreboard in the first. Braxton Plunk started things off with a double before Bryar Christian reached on a base hit. After Christian stole second, leaving both runners in scoring position, a bad throw from Tennessee pitcher Hunter Crawford on Hunter Emrine’s bunt allowed both Plunk and Christian to score.
Connor Rogers picked up an RBI in the second and Gonzalez picked up one in the third to give himself all the cushion he needed.
The win avenged Florida’s (Plant City’s) only loss of the All-Star season, coming against Tennessee in pool play July 29 when they fell 5-2.
“Everybody on this team just played a huge part,” head coach T.J. Messick said.
Crawford, a hard-throwing right-hander, shut down Florida through three innings in the first meeting of the two teams before being pulled to save him for a potential finals appearance. Messick said that his coaching staff worked with the team to be better prepared this time around.
“We got in a hitting session and threw from half the distance of normal batting practice to make sure their timing was right,” he explained.
The plan worked, as Florida got several timely hits and forced Crawford out of the game early.
“We got up there and weren’t scared a bit,” Messick said.
While the finals win was sweet, the game to get there was the defining moment for Florida.
Down to the final out, trailing 4-6 with two outs in the top of the sixth, Hunter Emrine, Conner Rogers, and Braxton Plunk all reached on two hits and a Virginia error (Plunk), loading the bases. Christian then delivered with a two-run flare to right center, tying the game 6-6.
In extra innings and after a scoreless seventh, Dylan Robinson and Emrine hit back-to-back solo home runs in the eighth to go up 8-6. Andrew Long put forth a quality performance on the mound in the semifinal, throwing six innings and striking out eight Virginia batters.
“That game was by far the biggest moment for us,” Messick said. “The boys just found a way to win and did exactly what they needed to do.”
The Southeast Regional is as far as the 10-11 age group can go, as with the 9-10 region championship team last year, but Messick is excited nonetheless. The team will have an opportunity to advance further next year, as the 11-12 All-Stars, with a chance to move past regionals to the coveted Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA.
The current Plant City 11-12 All-Stars are coming off a state championship, and will compete in their regional tournament this week, beginning Friday in Warner Robins, Ga.
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