The Cougars’ 2-1 win over Osceola on May 15 powered the team to its third-ever state semifinal appearance, which is scheduled for a 10 a.m. Friday start.
If Dylan LaPointe finishes his high school career with just one home run to his name, he can at least claim that dinger was the stuff of Durant legend.
The sophomore catcher’s solo shot over the fence at right-center — the first of his high school career — was the difference-maker in the Cougars’ 2-1 win over Osceola in the May 15 Class 7A-Region 2 championship game. It was enough for Durant to hold its lead through the rest of the game and enough to get the Cougars back to the state semifinals for the first time since 2015.
Durant never trailed Osceola that night. Dean Hotz’s sacrifice fly drove Thomas Allen home in the bottom of the first inning and gave the Cougars the 1-0 lead, and LaPointe’s fourth-inning homer provided all the insurance his team needed. The Kowboys did come up with an answer for LaPointe’s homer in the fifth inning, but the most they could get off of starter Alex Canney and reliever Sean Hermann was Sebastian Burgos’s score on a wild pitch.
Canney started the game and gave up two hits and two walks while striking out five batters in 2.2 innings of work. The senior righty has now struck out 10 batters in his last two appearances — five total innings between the May 12 win over Riverview Sarasota and the May 15 win over Osceola. Hermann struck out six batters, gave up four hits and allowed one walk in the remaining 4.1 innings.
Durant is now the third baseball team from the Plant City area to make it to the FHSAA’s state Final Four in the past three postseasons. Before COVID-19 canceled what would have been the 2020 tournament, Plant City and Strawberry Crest faced each other in the 2019 finale and the Chargers made it to the semifinal round in 2018.
In 2013, Durant reached the state championship game after allowing just two runs in six prior postseason games. After scoring a 6-1 win over Hialeah-American in the state semifinal round, the team couldn’t recapture its mojo on offense in an 8-3 loss to Lake Brantley.
In 2015, Durant got to the state semifinal after a series of hard-fought, one to two-run victories in the regional tournament (including a win over Osceola in the championship game, coincidentally). But eventual state champion Oviedo brought its A-game to the state semifinal and cruised to a 12-0 win over Durant.
It’s safe to say the Cougars are hoping the third time’s the charm when it comes to the Final Four.
The Cougars’ next opponent will be Spruce Creek (22-8), which is coming off of a 5-1 win over Lake Brantley in the 7A-Region 1 championship game.
Though the Hawks have outscored their last three opponents 12-2, you could call them slow starters. Their regional quarterfinal game at Bartram Trail went eight innings before SCHS’s Sebastian Iguaran hit a sac RBI to score Chase Dunlap and give the Hawks a 1-0 win. Facing Lake Mary in the following semifinal, the Hawks and Rams couldn’t get any runs on the board until SCHS broke the 0-0 tie with a run in the sixth inning and then outscored Lake Mary, 5-1, in the seventh inning.
Spruce Creek was finally able to start strong against Lake Brantley, taking a 3-0 lead in the first inning and putting on two more runs in the fourth inning en route to a 5-1 win.
If there’s one thing the Cougars and the Tampa Bay Lightning have in common, it’s getting a solid player back from injury just in time for the playoffs. Canney may not know how to snipe as well as Nikita Kucherov, but the senior righty now has the freshest arm in Durant’s staff after missing the entire regular season and coming back in time for the end of the district tournament.
Canney’s first game back on the mound was the 10-0 loss to Riverview Sarasota in the district finale, but he got out of that one relatively unscathed with one hit allowed, two strikeouts and two walks in two innings. He pitched one inning in Durant’s 8-3 regional quarterfinal win over Wharton, striking out and walking two batters with no hits allowed. His 2.1 innings of work in the Cougars’ rematch against RSHS — in which Durant completely flipped the script and won, 7-0 — were solid as he struck out five of the 10 batters he faced and gave up three hits with no walks.
With Canney regaining his confidence every time he gets back on the mound, plugging him into an already solid Durant staff should be a huge help at the point of the season where good pitching is more important than ever.
The spring 2021 season (thus far) couldn’t have been more special for the Cougars, who went undefeated at home, helped head coach Butch Valdes reach his milestone 200th win with the program, had an all-time great bounce-back game in the Riverview Sarasota rematch and got to the state semifinal on a home run that this squad and these fans will remember for a very long time. And if you’re willing to hit Interstate 75 bright and early Friday morning to cheer your Cougars on, you need to get your tickets now.
Visit gofan.co/app/school/FHSAA to buy your tickets for the game, which will start at 10 a.m. All of the FHSAA baseball state Final Fours will be held at the CenturyLink Sports Complex – Hammond Stadium, 14100 Six Mile Cypress Parkway, Fort Myers. Parking is $10 per car and only cash will be accepted. If you’re unable to make it but want to watch the game wherever you are, you will be able to catch a live stream at nfhsnetwork.com/associations/fhsaa with a subscription.
Should the Cougars beat the Hawks on Friday, they will face the winner of the Stoneman Douglas-Columbus game at 4 p.m. Saturday for all the marbles.