With the way things have been going, upcoming FHSAA playoff games are must-see occasions.
As much as ever, this baseball/softball postseason makes me wish I could be in two places at once.
There’s been a smattering of cool storylines this time around. There’s Ashley Blessin notching her thousandth career strikeout against East Bay in the 8A-6 softball semifinal and the comeback rally the Raiders pulled off after she got it. With them, there’s also the rebound 8-0 win over a really good Steinbrenner team last week, shortly after losing the district final in a nail-biter against Bloomingdale. While we’re talking Plant City High School, there was that district championship win from the weekend that was a long time coming — 51 years, you know — and the rollercoaster of emotions that was the sixth inning at 1 Raider Place. There’s Strawberry Crest’s baseball team doing what it did last year, getting hot at the perfect time, with even better results in a pair of 8-0 routs in the 8A-4 tournament to repeat as kings of the district.
I don’t know what the state of this column will be by the time you read it in the paper, as it’s going to press shortly before Wednesday night’s baseball regional quarterfinals, but it’s been a great ride thus far. If you’re reading this and we’ve still got local teams left alive, go see them.
The blessing and curse of baseball and softball is that both sports operate independent of time. There’s no buzzer to beat, no clock to run down, no time limit to do what needs to be done (unless you’re trying to start a high school inning after 11 p.m., apparently). An at-bat can be as quick as a three-pitch strikeout or a first-pitch home run, but when the stakes are high even those moments can seem like forever. It’s more suspenseful when you don’t have a clock to glance at to see when it’s going to end. It’s all in the players’ hands and we can only hope the ones we’re cheering on do the right thing when they have to act or react.
I’m thinking about the bottom of the sixth inning of last Saturday’s baseball game. Hunter Emerine’s leading off. He’s a much greater threat to hit a double than a home run (he leads the team with 10 doubles in 2019, as well as 24 RBI, and had one homer before the 8A-6 finale). Everyone in the stadium craned their necks toward left field when that ball came off his bat to see where it would end up and the place erupted when it snuck over the fence to the right of the foul pole. I don’t think anyone saw that coming and even he, as a guy who doesn’t always wear his emotions on his sleeve, was energized enough to jump onto home plate when he finished his trot. That was a certified game-changer of a play and I think everyone in a Raiders uniform would agree it completely set the tone for the remainder of play and enabled the rest of the offense to step it up.
Moments like that can make pretty much any game worth watching.
Anyone who made the trek to Sickles on Tuesday night basically got two games, nearly three, for the ticket price of one. Staying up until 12:50 a.m. and then having to drive back to Plant City is no simple task, but for a 19-inning pitchers’ duel between Blessin and the Sickles pitching staff, you could do a whole lot worse. The Raiders’ postseason may be over now that the team took a 2-1 loss, but the team certainly gave the PCHS faithful plenty of compelling action to see during its run in the regional bracket.
Take advantage while you can, because I think we’ve got some of the most watchable teams in Tampa Bay.