Plant City will host Bloomingdale at 7 p.m. tonight for the 8A-6 title.
Early in Plant City’s 7 p.m. Tuesday game against East Bay, it was clear ace Ashley Blessin had 1,000 things weighing on her mind — 1,000 career strikeouts, that is.
She started the district semifinal game needing to cause just seven more batters to whiff to hit the mark and, after East Bay got out to a 3-0 lead by the end of three innings, Blessin hit her mark in the top of the fourth. That’s when everyone at the game saw not only a change in her demeanor, but also saw a spark in the rest of the Raiders that led to their 7-3 win.
Blessin struck out exactly two batters in each of the game’s seven innings, but the Indians were able to get up 1-0 in the second inning when Presley Okimosh drove Shaniyah Pope in from third base. One inning later, East Bay scored on back-to-back errors to take a 3-0 lead and put Plant City in a hole the team didn’t look like it expected to get into.
But once Blessin struck out Bianca Ravelo for 1,000 and the game took a brief pause to commemorate the achievement, it was like a switch flipped. Blessin allowed three hits afterward but only one of the base runners made it as far as second as the senior found her groove and the defense stepped up. In the bottom of the fifth, Stephanie Bowers ripped a two-RBI double that scored Rylee Moorman and Emily Longoria to tie the game at 3-3 and the atmosphere at 1 Raider Place picked up noticeably. Rylee Shaffer put the Raiders ahead for good in the bottom of the sixth inning with an RBI single to score Haley Frangioni. Blessin reached base with a single, Moorman doubled to drive Shaffer home and Abbie DeWeese hit a two-RBI single that scored Blessin and Moorman to set the game’s 7-3 final score.
The win set the stage for a championship matchup with Bloomingdale, which picked up an 8-2 win over Durant earlier in the day.
The Bulls gradually chipped away at the Cougars’ pitching and defense, holding a 3-0 lead by the end of the fourth inning, but Durant wasn’t about to give up. The Cougars got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fifth when Shelby Allen singled to drive in Jordan Noble and later loaded up the bases with two outs, but Bloomingdale managed to get out of the jam. The Bulls put two more runs on the board in the top of the sixth inning on an error and an RBI single. Durant scored again in the bottom of the inning when Emily Smith ripped an RBI double that scored courtesy runner Alivia Rivera and set the score at 5-2 in favor of Bloomingdale.
Bloomingdale answered with a productive seventh inning that saw the Bulls score three runs in the top half and prevent any from scoring in the bottom half, though Kayla Lissy did make things interesting by hitting a two-out triple.
Strawberry Crest faced Wharton in the 4 p.m. first round game at the 8A-4 tournament at Freedom High School, but took a 2-1 loss to the Wildcats. Full results for the game were not available at press time.