Two weeks ago, we put a call out for Observer readers to share with us the stories of their favorite high school seniors in sports. Because of the uncertainties facing the future of the 2020 spring season, we felt recognizing those whose athletic careers may come to an end sooner than they hoped deserve a shout-out for all their hard work over the years.
Our first Senior Shout-Out is for Plant City High School’s baseball team, which has 10 seniors set to graduate in the spring.
The Plant City Raiders had lofty goals for 2020: winning the Saladino Tournament, districts, regionals and getting back to states to try and repeat as champions. By mid-March, the Raiders looked every bit like a contender with a 7-1 record and a six-game winning streak where they scored 34 runs and only allowed five.
The Raiders were getting ready to play in the Saladino Tournament, which was supposed to start March 14, when the news broke that high school sports were going to be put on hold through April 15. Then the return date got moved back to early May. With the rest of the spring 2020 season covered in the shadow of doubt, we may never know if this team really was as capable of repeating as it looked on paper.
“Not only is this devastating to the players, but it’s pretty upsetting as a parent, too,” Tifaney Cothren said. “I’m devastated that I didn’t get to watch my son’s last high school baseball game.”
One of the Raiders’ biggest keys to success in 2020 was its senior class, which saw a lot of action in 2019 and contributed heavily to the team’s first-ever state title win. Everyone who follows Tampa Bay-area baseball knows about Plant City’s big three, in particular.
Cole Cothren, who in 2019 cemented himself as one of Hillsborough County’s best hitters with a .467 average through 31 games, was batting .318 and tied for the team lead in hits (seven) and RBI (six) to start this season.
“Silent assassin, loveable, Mr. Clutch and, more importantly, a stud on the diamond,” head coach Mike Fryrear said.
Jarod Wingo, who started and won the 2019 state title game, struck out 46 batters in 26.2 innings as the team’s ace pitcher and also recorded a complete game no-hitter.
“One word: ‘bulldog,’” Fryrear said.
Tyler Dowdy, who never saw a pitch he couldn’t hit out of the park in the 2019 state semifinal, busted an early slump this year to tie with both Cothren’s batting average and the team’s lead in doubles (three), and he also had three wins pitching with 26 batters struck out.
“If Parker Messick was Mr. Baseball last year, Tyler was on his way to make sure that title stayed at P.C.,” Fryrear said.
Three other seniors have not only made an impact on the field, but also off it as ambassadors for the program who Fryrear said will set the tone for everyone who comes along after them.
Chris Rodriguez is one of the hardest-working student-athletes at Plant City High School. His 6.61 GPA is one of the highest at PCHS and is the highest in the baseball program’s history. He joined the varsity baseball team in his sophomore year and has been a steady presence in the outfield since then, working his way up to the title of captain.
“Chris has always been the voice of reason in the program and he is the definition of what it means to be a PCHS baseball player,” Fryrear said. “The character, work ethic and dedication to the program has been one of the best. He was one of the first guys to say ‘I love you, Coach’ after we won state last year. That will always be remembered through my eyes.”
Rodriguez played two other sports: he was the football team’s kicker and helped Plant City end a three-year playoff drought in 2018, and he also played basketball.
When Tre Ragan got a chance to crack the starting lineup this season, he took his time to shine and ran with it.
Ragan, who played in seven games in 2019, played in every game in 2020 and showed improvement everywhere. Though his glove already had a good reputation, Ragan got better with the bat and led the Raiders with a .350 average in 20 at-bats. He tied with Cothren and Dowdy for a team-high seven hits, scored five runs and stole three bases.
“Tre enjoys everything about the game but continues to be a great teammate, even off the field,” Fryrear said. “He loves to joke but he always wants to win for his teammates and P.C. baseball.”
Like Rodriguez, Ragan also played high school basketball.
The third is designated hitter Brayden Crews, who batted .429 in 17 plate appearances last season. Crews made the lineup as the team’s designated hitter for 2020. His personality, Fryrear said, is essential for the team’s success.
“Brayden has been a very hard worker on and off the field,” Fryrear said. “He has been a true asset to the baseball program with his loveable character during practices and games. He keeps the team loose, accountable and dedicated to winning games… his most quality trait, I must say, is his willingness to be an overall great person and the future is sky high with him.”
The Raiders have four other seniors on the roster.
Fryrear called third baseman/designated hitter Jose Machado “one of the best character guys I’ve ever seen, as well as a program guy.” Alex Rodriguez, starting shortstop and a captain, was called the “smoothest infielder, and to see him grow into the man he is becoming may be one of my best gifts as a coach to see happen right in front of them.” Righty pitcher Wyatt Rogers is “energetic, fun, a competitor and willing to win with his brothers at all costs — respectfully, of course.” And starting catcher Chase English grew into “maybe one of the best ever” team captains, Fryrear added.
Even if they aren’t able to play baseball together again in a PCHS uniform, these seniors’ contributions to the program are going to stick around in the memories of Raider Nation for a long, long time.
Want to give the senior athlete(s) in your life a shout-out in an upcoming issue of the Plant City Observer? Email Sports/Associate Editor Justin Kline at firstname.lastname@example.org.