It was fitting that Plant City’s fourth consecutive district championship win came from a four-run inning.
On Thursday night, facing a 1-0 deficit against the East Bay Indians, the Raiders rallied to a 4-1 win at 1 Raider Place that sent the home crowd into a frenzy. Having not played as well against district competition as last year, the Raiders were not seen as tournament favorites. They proved throughout the week, especially Thursday, that seeding didn’t matter.
“I just told them that they have to stay up and they have to believe,” head coach Ashley Bullion said. “When we went into the district tournament, we started a ‘we can and we will.’ We just have to think that we can, and we will.”
The Raiders looked solid after a perfect first inning from pitcher Ashley Blessin, but East Bay got on the board in the second when the junior gave up a home run to deep left off of Haley Murphy’s bat. Plant City nearly tied things up in the top of the third inning, getting courtesy runner Rachel Arnold as far as third base, but the Indians defense prevented the score. Blessin got into a jam in the fourth inning with one out, as the Indians loaded the bases, but she retired Lauryn Newson and Brianna Carlisle to escape the jam.
East Bay got into a jam of its own in the top fifth, but the Raiders were able to do what the Indians could not. Haley Frangioni, Lexi Moore and Emily Longoria were able to load the bases with two outs and an Abbie DeWeese single scored Frangioni to tie the game at 1-1. In the next at-bat, Beka Schulte made contact and scored all three baserunners.
“It feels great,” Schulte said. “I don’t really know how to say it in words. I’m excited. I’m so proud of my team.”
Schulte’s shot energized Plant City for the rest of the game. Only one East Bay batter reached base in the next two innings, thanks to Blessin’s strong pitching and a solid defensive effort highlighted by a Lexi Moore diving grab in the fifth. The Indians broke out of their short slump in the final frame, reaching base on Newson’s leadoff double and Sophia Kotopka’s walk, but Jocelin Beltran hit into a double play and Rachel Kingery hit a shallow pop fly that landed neatly in Blessin’s glove in the next at-bat.
The four-peat was most special for Schulte, Moore and Taylor Bennett, as the three seniors have now known nothing but district title wins in their time at Plant City High School.
“We’ve definitely put in the work to earn it, and I’m proud of us,” Schulte said.
The win set up a May 2 regional quarterfinal date with Steinbrenner at Plant City, while East Bay will travel to Sickles as the lower seed.