Hammond Stadium is a little less than two and a half hours from the Plant City area by car. The simplest way to get there is to take I-75 to Daniels Parkway, then cut onto Six Mile Cypress Parkway until you get to the home of the Fort Myers Miracle.
If you still need help, just follow the buses for the Strawberry Crest Chargers and Plant City Raiders baseball teams next week.
Both teams made the cut for the FHSAA Final Four with a pair of Wednesday night regional championship wins. Crest survived a late Chiles rally to take a 3-2 win and Plant City cruised to a 3-0 win at Seminole. The Chargers are now back-to-back regional champs and, to hear everyone in garnet and black tell it, no longer “just happy to be there” at states — they’re back and they’re hungrier than ever. The Raiders, on the other hand, continued to go boldly where no PCHS baseball team has gone before and won their first-ever 8A-Region 2 title.
“It feels awesome,” SCHS head coach Eric Beattie said. “It’s a hard thing to do once, and now we’re going back.”
Crest took its first and only lead of the game in the bottom of the third inning when Kade Manderscheid scored Alex Mussenden with an RBI single. The Chargers got the remainder of their offense on the scoreboard in the next half-inning, plating two in the bottom of the fourth when Caleb Weaver scored on a fielding error at second base and Mussenden’s sacrifice RBI drove in Ryan Dell.
The game went by quickly — five innings were completed in just over one hour, largely thanks to Alex Marshall’s perfection on the mound — until the sixth inning, when Chiles took advantage of some mistakes by an otherwise airtight Crest defense. Tyler Gerteisen scored on an error after an attempt to throw him out was unsuccessful, and a sacrifice RBI by Grant Gallagher brought Mason Correa across home plate to cut the Chargers’ lead to one. Marshall was able to recover and induce a groundout and a flyout to end the inning.
Crest nearly put some more points on the board in the bottom of the sixth with two outs and Joey Parrillo on second base, but Colby Fanning’s liner to left field was caught in the air on an athletic diving play.
Manderscheid took the mound for the Chargers to get the save and, after a series of pickoff attempts at second base left the Crest defense visibly frustrated, finally broke through. Cullen Craig struck out looking. Jaxson West flied out. Dillon Gieseckie was accidentally hit by a pitch and took his base, but it didn’t matter: Parker McDonald hit a grounder quickly thrown to a hyped-up Tanner Kelley for the final out. The Chargers again proved they could handle high stress.
“We practice stressful situations at practice a lot,” Manderscheid said. “Our coaches really help us push through. We’ve just got such a great team. We’ve got the best defense around.”
Meanwhile, at Seminole High School, Plant City took control early in the game when Tyler Dowdy blasted a solo shot over the outfield fence to give the Raiders a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning. Cade Shissler drove in two RBI, first scoring Mario Williams on a double and later scoring Casey Mawhinney on an infield single. Parker Messick gave up just one hit and one walk to the Warhawks to get the win.
“PCHS has never made it past the regional semifinal before,” Raiders head coach Mike Fryrear said. “We’re feeling good. I’m still in a daze, a little bit. The boys have calmed down now but they were going wild on the bus. It feels good… but we know we have to focus on winning at states.”
Plant City’s state semifinal opponent is already known. Hollywood-McArthur, coached by former Major League Baseball player Oddibe McDowell, picked up a 2-0 win at home over St. Thomas Aquinas Wednesday night to get to the Final Four. The Mustangs (15-5; 2-1 district) have not allowed a run in their last three games and have outscored opponents 10-0 in that time. The Raiders and Mustangs will face off at 7 p.m. May 29.
Strawberry Crest’s opponent will be decided Thursday night. The winner of the Windermere-George Jenkins game will go on to face the Chargers at 4 p.m. May 29. Windermere (24-4; 13-0 district) made it to the 8A-Region 3 championship round with a 3-2 home win over Hagerty on May 18. George Jenkins (20-6; 4-2 district) got there with a 4-3 win over Lakeland on May 18. Like Crest, Jenkins also made it to the 8A state Final Four last year and lost in the semifinal round (a 6-3 loss to eventual champion St. Thomas Aquinas).