Local athletes continue to excel at college level
Several former baseball players from Strawberry Crest, Durant and Plant City High School kicked off their collegiate conference tournaments last week.
Most notably No. 23 Florida State as the Seminoles feature two Plant City natives in pitchers Parker Messick and Jonah Scolaro. Messick graduated from Plant City High School in 2019, Scolaro from Durant in 2017.
In Florida State’s first game of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament last Wednesday, a 12-1 loss at the hands of Duke, Scolaro entered as the Seminole’s seventh pitcher of the contest and threw a perfect seventh inning with two strikeouts.
On Friday, Messick took the mound against an in-state rival in the Miami Hurricanes despite the conference championship being out of reach.
The Seminoles jumped out to an early 3-0 lead and never looked back, ultimately winning 6-3. Messick finished his outing with seven strikeouts and allowed just two runs, five hits and a single walk. Miami tried to battle back in the bottom of the ninth, pushing a run across to cut the Florida State lead to just three and loading the bases. But Scolaro entered out of the bullpen, got the game-ending strikeout and converted the one-out save, his first of the season.
In the American Athletic Conference tournament, Durant graduate Jake Sullivan and the USF Bulls got their first ever 2-0 start to conference tournament play as members of the AAC with a 7-2 win over Wichita State and 5-0 win over Tulane.
Sullivan went 1-5 against Wichita State and 1-4 with an RBI against Tulane.
On Saturday the Bulls matched up with Tulane two more times in the double-elimination tournament, dropping the first game 16-6 before bouncing back in the evening game with a 7-1 win to advance to the conference championship on Sunday. Sullivan went 1-3 with a walk and 1-5 with an RBI in the two contests.
On the other side of the AAC’s bracket, former Plant City High School pitcher Billy McKay and the UCF Knights paved their own path to the conference semi-finals with a 14-10 win over Cincinnati and a massive 17-1 win over Memphis.
McKay totaled 1.1 innings pitched with two strikeouts, three walks and no hits or runs allowed against Cincinnati.
On Saturday the Knights advanced in similar fashion to USF, falling early in a 5-2 game against Eastern Carolina before clinching a championship appearance with a 2-1 victory in the evening.
This left rivals USF and UCF in a winner-take-all championship game on Sunday that featured the two Plant City natives.
USF jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning and added four more runs in the second, one coming by way of Sullivan’s lone RBI on the day.
UCF wouldn’t go quietly, however, manufacturing a rally of their own late but ultimately fell to the Bulls by a final score of 8-7.
Sullivan went 2-5 and drove in one run while McKay entered in the second and threw 2.1 innings for UCF totaling two strikeouts with just two hits, two walks and one run allowed.
The conference championship victory was USF baseball’s first as members of the AAC, and their first conference championship since 1995.
The automatic bid clinched USF’s 14th College World Series appearance as they will head to the Gainesville Regional alongside the University of Florida, the University of Miami and the University of South Alabama.
FSU on the other hand will be heading to their 43rd consecutive CWS by way of the Oxford, Mississippi Regional, set to face Ole Miss, Southern Miss and Southeast Missouri State.
And in the Atlantic Sun Conference, another set of former Plant City rivals met again in a best-of-three play-in series between the Stetson Hatters and North Florida Ospreys for a spot in the conference semi-finals.
Cade Shissler, a former pitcher at Plant City High School, did not participate for Stetson as the Hatters fell to North Florida in two games.
From the other dugout, former Strawberry Crest infielder Alex Kachler had two hits in four at bats in the first game of the series, notching a double and one RBI in North Florida’s 5-4 victory.
And despite a convincing 9-2 elimination win for the Ospreys in Game 2, Kachler was held hitless.
Kachler then came up big in the conference semi-finals against Kennesaw State, finishing the game 2-3 with two RBI, one walk and one run scored. But as the weekend continued, North Florida would go on to lose their next two games to Jacksonville and Liberty en route to elimination, falling just one game shy of the conference championship.