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LAKELAND — Durant’s luck ran out.
After a historic run to the Class 5A region final, the Cougars were dispatched 4-2 by Lakeland (26-4) at Joker Marchant Stadium on Friday night. No Durant baseball team has been this far since 2001.
Being delayed an hour and a half by rain, playoff jitters were magnified for both teams.
Lefty Emilio Ogando started the night off poorly for Durant (17-10). After throwing two strikeouts in the second inning, he hit two batters pitch in the third. He seemed to regain his composure when, under a full count and two outs with the bases loaded, he struck out Tyler Howe to get out of the inning.
But from there, things went downhill for Ogando.
“You got games that you’re on, games that you’re off,” coach Butch Valdes said. “It wasn’t his best game, it wasn’t his worst game, but he felt that.”
The next inning, lefty Chaz Fowler replaced him, then Lakeland broke away. A ground-rule double brought in two runs. After a line drive to centerfield, Erik Barber scored. Then pinch runner Tyler Prebor scored on a single by Austin Barnett with one out.
In the top of the sixth, the Cougars rallied after a double steal by Tyler Danish and Brett Jones. On a Trey Oest hit, Danish ran in to put the Cougars on the board. In the top of the seventh, Dylan Barrow stole second and third bases on hits by Luke Heyer, and came in on a hit by Jacob Burgess to bring the Cougars up 4-2. But the effort was too little, too late.
The game was marked by excellent ball-handling by Lakeland and little productivity at bat for Durant. Errors by Durant catcher Johnny Coglianese also allowed two men on base at critical moments.
“They’re a good ball team, definitely without a doubt,” Valdes said. “But I’m proud of my boys in the end, no matter what. We made some big plays, like the double play, but we made some good plays to keep them off the bases.”