Thanks in large part to a perfect pull off the bat of Hunter Emerine, the Plant City Raiders are now district champs for the first time ever.
Emerine’s solo shot snuck past the foul pole in the bottom of the sixth inning to give the Raiders a shot of adrenaline and fuel what became the team’s 6-3 win in the 8A-District 6 final against Bloomingdale. The win was a long time coming not only because the Raiders had never previously won a district title, but also because several weather delays forced what was supposed to be a Thursday night game to wrap up shortly after 10 a.m. Saturday.
The Bulls and Raiders began play Friday night and were able to get through two full innings before heavy rains and some lightning forced a second postponement despite much effort on Plant City’s part to get the field in playable condition. The Raiders ended Friday night with a 1-0 lead thanks to Emerine’s RBI single in the bottom of the first inning that scored Chris Rodriguez.
The FHSAA rules forced both teams to put new pitchers on the mound Saturday morning. For Plant City, Tyler Dowdy came in for Jarod Wingo. For Bloomingdale, Myles Caba took over for Nico Saladino. Caba pitched well through two innings of work, striking out five batters, but was pulled for Bryce Hazzard in the fifth. Dowdy finished the game and kept things largely under control for Plant City.
Bloomingdale made things interesting in the top of the sixth when Antonio De Jesus smacked an RBI single to drive in courtesy runner Noah Saladino (running for Jackson Hobbs) and tie the game at 1-1. The Raiders’ overall mood suddenly changed, but it wouldn’t last long.
Emerine led off the bottom of the sixth inning and his solo shot brought the Raiders onto the field to celebrate as he leapt onto home plate, emotion running high after kicking off the rally that put his team ahead for good.
“It was about four feet from the pole and I was praying it would go over.,” head coach Mike Fryrear said. “It was awesome. Hunter was sitting back on that fastball and he gave it right to him. I love it.”
Casey Mawhinney, Wingo, Cade Shissler and Rodriguez all reached base and eventually scored in the bottom of the sixth and Cole Cothren made the Raiders’ final scoring play of the day with a two-RBI single to give PCHS a 6-1 lead.
“Our dugout goes a little wild,” Messick said. “We feast off of each other. When someone does something like that, we eat off of it… that’s what gets us a lot of our wins, honestly.”
The Bulls did try to make something happen in the top of the seventh as Garrett Borgen led off with a double and Brock Wilken drove him in with an RBI double of his own. Hobbs later hit an RBI single that scored courtesy runner Drake Harman to cut the deficit to 6-3, but Dowdy and the Plant City defense then forced a quick pair of outs to seal the deal.
“Kudos to Bloomingdale, man, (Kris Wilken) is a great coach and this is a great team. Hopefully we get to see them again in the regional semifinal because these games are just nail-biters,” Fryrear said. “I’m very proud of these boys… first win and hopefully there’s more to come.”
Plant City will host Steinbrenner at 7 p.m. May 15 and Fryrear is hoping the team can get a little friendly payback for the teams’ last postseason meeting, the April 27, 2016 regional quarterfinal in Lutz that ended with a 3-2 win for the Warriors. After Saturday’s big win, the Raiders are confident they can keep on trucking as long as they keep doing what they’re doing now.
“We’re tired of people thinking we can’t win,” Messick said. “We’re ready to prove them wrong. We’ve been doing it all season and that’s not enough for us. We want to go as far as we can and that’s states for us. We’re gonna take it one game at a time but we’re ready for whoever wants to play us.”