Two weeks after the two teams battled it out in a nine-inning affair, it was another pitching duel as the Cougars escaped with a 1-0 victory.
Two weeks ago Durant and Strawberry Crest faced off at Durant as starting pitchers Blaine Rowland and Luke Richardson battling late into the spring evening — with both pitchers notching eight scoreless innings before the Chargers ultimately came away with a 2-0 victory in nine innings. On Tuesday night, with the Cougars entering the contest off of a first round bye after finishing the regular season with a 17-5 record and the Chargers fresh off of a 16-0 quarterfinal victory over Ridge Community, the two pitchers met again as Durant ultimately came away on top when it mattered most — advancing to the district final with a 1-0 win over Crest.
With Rowland taking the mound in the top of the first, Crest quickly put their first baserunner of the contest aboard as freshman Reuben Vasquez drew a leadoff walk but Rowland bounced back quickly by notching the first out of the inning on a fly ball to center before inducing a ground ball double play to Nick April-Gath at shortstop. And as Richardson took the mound in the bottom of the first, he made quick work of the first three Durant batters with a ground out and a pair of fly outs. The dueling duo worked through the second and third without conceding a baserunner and Durant came up with their first hit of the contest in the fourth on a slow ground ball up the middle from April-Gath, reached by Crest shortstop Arjun Nimmala but thrown on to first first too late to secure the out. Despite the hit, it was quickly wiped out as Crest catcher Damien Bennett rifled a throw down to second to catch April-Gath’s stolen base attempt before Richardson worked through the rest of the inning with a pair of ground outs.
And in the top of the fifth, Zach Redner notched the first hit of the game for Crest with a single through the left side, but much like Richardson, Rowland escaped the inning unscathed with a pair of strikeouts and some help from catcher Dylan LaPointe who tallied a caught stealing of his own as he gunned down Redner at second to end the frame.
In the bottom of the fifth, Durant junior Noah Morales opened up the inning for the Cougars with a base hit through the left side, quickly moving up to second on a wild pitch. A sacrifice bunt from Rowland marked the first out of the inning but moved Morales up to third successfully — putting the go ahead run just 90 feet from home. Richardson proceeded to get the second out with a clutch strikeout in the Cougars’ next at bat, but junior Pete Oderio followed it up with the biggest swing of the game as he roped a line drive single into left to drive in Morales and give Durant a 1-0 lead.
The Chargers were sat down in order in the top of the sixth and Crest subsequently turned to Redner in relief in the bottom half of the inning — entering the game with runners on first and second with one out. A hit by pitch put LaPointe on first and loaded the bases for the Cougars, but Redner responded with a strikeout and a ground out to short to end the threat without allowing Durant to add any insurance heading into the top of the seventh.
Down to their last breath, Nimmala represented the game-tying run as he reached first safely by lining a one-out single to right field. A fly out to center left the Cougars’ just one out away but a single through the right side from Akhil Nimmala extended the affair and put runners on the first and third. Despite the pressure rising, Rowland was able to clinch the 1-0 victory as he induced a line out to left field to end the contest.
In another razor thin battle, it was another stellar competition between Crest and Durant — most notably coming in the form of excellent outings from Richardson and Rowland. Richardson finished the contest with two strikeouts, no walks, four hits allowed and just one earned run allowed across 5.1 innings. On the other side, Rowland totaled six strikeouts while allowing just one walk and four hits across seven shutout innings in his complete game effort.
As the district tournament’s second seed, Durant will host rival Newsome in the 7A District 6 finals on Thursday at 7 p.m. after the fourth-seeded Wolves knocked off fifth seed Haines City in a 10-0 quarterfinal matchup before toppling top seed Winter Haven in an 11-0 semifinal this week. Durant and Newsome have split their season series this year, with Newsome taking a 9-4 win over the Cougars on March 28 before Durant came away with a 3-1 victory over the Wolves on April 14.