Heading into this week, area baseball and softball fans still had one team left in the FHSAA playoffs to root for.
Durant’s baseball and softball teams picked up a pair of wins in the regional quarterfinals on May 6 and 7 to advance to this week’s semifinal round. Strawberry Crest’s baseball and softball teams, as well as Plant City’s baseball team, were all eliminated in the quarterfinal round.
On May 7, Durant visited Wharton and a big seventh-inning scoring punch vaulted the Cougars into the winning end of an 8-3 final. After the Wildcats took a 1-0 lead in the first inning, Durant put two on the board in the third and both ball clubs managed to tie the game at 3-3 in the fourth. But the hot bat of Dean Hotz (2-for-4 with two RBI that night) managed to break the Cougars free from the draw in the top of the seventh and the Durant offense couldn’t be shaken out of its rhythm with five more runs on the board by the time the side was retired. Alex Canney threw a no-hit inning in the bottom of the seventh to relive starter Sean Hermann (W, three hits, two earned runs, one walk, five strikeouts) and preserve the win.
The Cougars battered Wharton pitchers Ryan Fry and Evan Chrest to the tune of 13 total hits. Catcher Dylan LaPointe led the team with three in four at-bats and drove in one run. Austin Sewell matched Hotz’s stat line. Thomas Allen (2-for-3, one run) and Javy Quintana (2-for-4) were the two other Cougars to total more than one hit.
Next up for the Cougars was Riverview Sarasota in a rematch of the May 30 7A-District 8 championship game, which the Rams won by a score of 10-0. Sickles put the Rams’ defense to the test late in their quarterfinal matchup last week, but RSHS passed on the strength of a four-run third inning to hang on for the 4-3 win. The Durant/RSHS game was played Wednesday night and couldn’t have been more different from the first game – but in the best possible way for the Cougars. Durant picked up a 7-0 win on the road and will host Osceola at 7 p.m. Saturday night.
Durant’s softball team also scored eight runs and picked up 13 total hits, though George Jenkins didn’t give as much reason to put the final outcome in doubt as Wharton did on the baseball field. The Cougars cruised to an 8-1 win in which starter Haleigh Thomas went all seven innings and gave up just two hits, one earned run and one walk while striking out 11 batters.
The home team jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first inning and extended it to 6-0 by the fourth, when George Jenkins got on the scoreboard thanks to a solo home run from Kristin Steller. Durant answered with two more runs in the bottom of the fourth to wrap up all of the scoring and stayed strong enough defensively to close out the game without an issue.
Peyton Haxton led all Durant batters with two RBI on two hits (including a home run of her own) and scored a run. Rayna and Rylee Trice each picked up two hits and scored a run, and Rayna added an RBI and a triple to the stat sheet. Kenzington Marsh also picked up a triple and an RBI with two hits. Emma Chisholm drove in two runs on one hit and Ariana Rego scored twice.
The Cougars made it to Tuesday’s semifinal round at powerhouse Bartow, which was coming off of a 10-0 win over Strawberry Crest in the quarterfinal round. Durant handed the Yellow Jackets a rare loss that night in a 2-1 final where all of the offense happened in the sixth inning.
Bartow only managed to put one run on the board while picking up five hits against Thomas, who also struck out five batters and walked two in seven innings. Durant only picked up three hits that night but still found a way onto the bases between five walks, one HBP and three Bartow errors. Smith and Rylee Trice scored both of the Cougars’ runs.
Next up is a showdown with Viera at Durant at 7 p.m. tomorrow night. The Hawks are coming off of a 3-0 win over Melbourne on Tuesday and have now won both of their regional tournament games by a combined 6-0 (including last week’s shutout win over Seminole Ridge).
Statistics provided by MaxPreps.com.