The Raiders came away with a 6-5 win over the Wolves to move to 2-0 on the year.
After opening their season with a 7-4 win over Freedom last Tuesday, Plant City made their way to Newsome on Friday as they searched for a 2-0 start to the year.
As is the norm for the Raiders’ Friday matchups, junior starter Chase Mobley would take the mound for Plant City, but not before they would have an opportunity to swing the bats in the top of the first. After a strikeout put one quick out on the board for Plant City, junior Colin Pellicer got out in front with a 2-1 count before going the other way with a hard line drive to right field that managed to get past the Wolves’ right fielder, rolling all the way to the fence as Pellicer made his way all the way to third on the play. With the early go-ahead run just 90 feet away, Newsome’s infield crept in before senior Zane Wright rolled a ground ball to shortstop. As Pellicer broke on contact, the throw came home but wasn’t in time as Plant City took a 1-0 lead and Wright reached first safely. And, in another fortunate mistake in favor of the Raiders, an ensuing pickoff attempt to first was thrown low, getting past the first baseman and bouncing to the fence as Wright was able to advance to third on another error from the Wolves’ defense. A strikeout gave Newsome two outs in the inning, one good pitch away from escaping the jam with just one run allowed, but a passed ball allowed Wright to come home and Plant City immediately held a 2-0 lead as they made their way onto the field for the bottom of the frame.
Early in the inning Mobley was seemingly cruising, starting the contest with a four-pitch strikeout on an elevated fastball before drawing a weak fly out to shortstop for the second out of the inning, but back-to-back base hits had Newsome threatening and a passed ball moved runners up to second and third. A walk loaded the bases and another subsequent walk allowed Newsome’s first run to come across, cutting the Raiders’ lead to 2-1, but Mobley would escape the inning with only one run allowed as the following hitter ended the inning with a flyout to center.
And in the second, Plant City wasted no time adding on to their lead. After a long first at bat, Mobley continued to battle before blasting a leadoff double to right center. A ground out to short gave the Wolves’ their first out but the slow roller allowed Mobley to advance to third. A four-pitch walk put senior Ray Cowen aboard and another long at bat to Deven Gonzalez resulted in a full count hit by pitch, loading the bases with one out as Pellicer once again stepped into the box with a huge opportunity to extend the Raiders’ lead. And with the chance in front of him, Pellicer didn’t let the moment go to waste as he roped a bases-clearing double down the left field line to give the Raiders a 5-1 lead in the second.
“We actually got out of our game,” head coach Mike Fryrear said. “We usually like to bunt and move guys over and we started to clog up the bases with some of our bigger guys. We had some clutch hits early but they also sort of gave us the game a little bit early too. We were taking until we got a strike and sometimes we were striking out without even putting the bat on the ball, but if we put the bat on the ball and put pressure on teams, we’re going to be really deadly.”
Heading into the bottom of the frame after a long top half of the inning, Mobley offered a walk to open the inning. A slow ground ball to first in the next at bat resulted in a miscommunication for the Raiders’ defense, not only allowing both runners to reach safely, but allowing them to advance to second and third with no outs. But despite the dangerous start to the inning for Newsome, Mobley responded strong as he struck the next batter out on a hard breaking ball in the dirt before responding with another strikeout on a power fastball. The next batter was intentionally walked to load the bases and Mobley immediately got ahead of the following hitter, drawing a fly out to center in a 1-2 count to retire the side.
In the top of the third, Plant City was held off the scoreboard for the first time in the contest as their three hitters were retired in order and senior Logan Figga entered the game to pitch in relief for the Raiders.
A trio of walks to start the bottom half gave the Wolves’ their third bases loaded opportunity in as many innings, this time coming with no outs. A sac fly cut the Raiders’ lead to 5-2 and Pellicer continued his big night by gunning down a runner at third on Newsome’s double steal attempt for the second out.
“Without his double we don’t win the game,” Fryrear said about Pellicer. “He’s a high-energy guy and we’ve been working really, really hard on his catching too, he may not be the best in the county but he competes and that’s what I love about the guy. We worked on that at practice because we’ve been struggling to throw guys out so every day we’ve been doing our drills, trying to make it more game-like, and it paid off.”
Another walk put runners at first and second for the Wolves, but a strikeout from Figga ended the threat.
The Raiders were once again retired in order in the top of the fourth and senior Tanner Rollyson took the mound in relief, working his way through the inning with just one baserunner allowed via a one-out walk, but Newsome rallied the following inning to draw even. After a single opened the bottom of the fifth, a soft hit to right field put runners on second and third as the Raiders’ defense was shaded left, opening up the opportunity for a standup double on the opposite field hit. A strikeout notched the first out of the inning but a balk allowed the run from third to score, cutting the Wolves’ deficit to just 5-3 as the trail runner moved to third. A line out to right marked the second out of the inning, but once again Newsome came up big as their next two hitters flipped a double down the left field line and roped an RBI line drive single to left center to knot the contest up at 5-5. Wright was then brought in from the bullpen and immediately brought Newsome’s big inning to a close with by inducing a fly out to center, but the damage had been done.
And while the Raiders had little to show offensively since their productive first and second innings, junior Wellington Hehn got Plant City back on track in the top of the sixth with a leadoff base hit, advancing to second quickly as a throw behind him at first from the Newsome catcher was low and slipped past the first baseman and into right field. Senior Wyatt Fordham then fell into a 2-2 count before punching a base hit to right, giving Plant City runners on first and third, followed by a sac fly to center from Cowen to push the Raiders back out in front 6-5.
Wright remained on the mound in the bottom of the sixth, striking out the first two batters before conceding a base hit to right field, but didn’t allow the Wolves to take advantage as a fly ball to shortstop moved the contest to the seventh. The Raiders were unable to add any insurance in the top half of the seventh and Wright once again emerged from the dugout looking to seal the Plant City victory and move them to 2-0 on the year. After the leadoff hitter reached base on a hit by pitch, Wright quickly fielded the ensuing bunt attempt and notched the first out of the inning as the runner moved to second. Once again, Newome laid down another bunt and once again, Wright made the play. With two outs and the tying run just 90 feet away at third, Wright took the count to 2-2 before getting the final out by way of a swinging strikeout to clinch the thrilling 6-5 victory.
“Wright is mid-to-upper-80’s and we know he can do it,” Fryrear said. “The thing is, he catches too, but I think we’ve found our closer and he’s going to do that job every year. He’s athletic on the mound, fielding those bunts, I don’t know if any other guy fields those bunts besides maybe Mobley. He fields his position, he threw strikes, he didn’t walk guys and that’s half the battle right there.”
Plant City dropped their first game of the season on Tuesday in a 6-4 loss against Lennard, but will look to get back into the win column as they host cross-town rival Strawberry Crest on Friday. For the Chargers, they will also enter the contest at 2-1 following wins over King and Middleton after opening the season with a 2-0 loss at Sickles.
“It felt like, as a coach, that I had to coach almost pitch,” Fryrear said. “It was unbelievable. I haven’t had to coach like that for a very long time. I usually like to just let the players play but even when we were up it felt like we were behind. We hit the ball tonight but we also struck out nine times. We didn’t play our best ball tonight and that’s saying something to beat a really, really good team like Newsome. They’re going to win a lot of games this year so to beat a team like that when you’re not even playing your best? Mobley didn’t have his best stuff, Tanner was sore, Figga never walks guys, so it was just one of those innings but we battled. All that conditioning that we do in the fall and all the mental preparation we do, it’s about who’s going to be the tougher guys. We battled every inning and every pitch and that’s what it’s going to take to win ballgames this year.”