BRANDON — The tying run was on base, Durant was on the verge of an improbable collapse and Hillsborough’s seventh-inning hero from Monday was coming to the plate.
But there would be no late-game heroics for Jesus Vega or the Terriers this time.
Vega grounded into a double play and Durant survived a seventh-inning implosion to prevail 6-5 over Hillsborough in their Saladino Tournament quarterfinal Wednesday.
“Hillsborough is known for staying around and they kept fighting,” Durant coach Butch Valdes said. “We opened the door for them, but thankfully we had a little more in the tank. The double play was huge.”
The Cougars (10-2) will face Bloomingdale in the 7 p.m. semifinal today. The Bulls (8-4) advanced after rallying from an early 5-1 deficit en route to an 8-6 victory over Brandon in the other quarterfinal.
Neither the Cougars nor the Bulls seemed like good bets to make it another round after some seventh-inning struggles Wednesday.
In the first quarterfinal, Durant southpaw Charles Fowler sent the Cougars into the seventh inning with a seemingly comfortable 6-0 lead.
Fowler had surrendered only two hits in his six-inning appearance, which culminated in a three-up, three-down sixth.
“I felt great out there,” Fowler said. “I did what I had to do to get through six innings.”
But as soon as Fowler left the mound, the Terriers mounted a rally reminiscent of their game-winning seventh-inning surge against Plant on Monday.
Cougars sophomore reliever Bryce Gainer got off to a rocky start by giving up a single to Marco Alvarez and walking the next two batters to load the bases.
Wilbert Maphus singled in a run and Gainer then plunked Hillsborough leadoff hitter Diamond Johnson, sending in another run before being taken out of the game.
Gainer’s replacement, junior right-hander Ryan Barfield, didn’t fare much better.
Steven Lugo’s groundout drove in another run and Garrett Vess’ two-RBI single closed Durant’s lead to 6-5.
That brought up Vega, whose walkoff RBI single clinched the victory Monday.
This time, however, Vega hit into a double play that ended the game.
“We played a full seven (innings),” said Hillsborough coach Kenny White. “You never want to be happy with losing but I’m pleased with the way my team fought to the very end.”
Bloomingdale also fought back late in its quarterfinal game against Brandon, to better results.
After senior right-hander Jamal Wilson allowed five runs in the first inning, Bloomingdale slowly chipped away at the Eagles’ early lead.
Bulls senior Justin Ambrosino was pivotal in the comeback, driving in a run in the bottom of the first, drawing a two-out walk in the fifth that started the four-run inning and then taking the mound in the seventh.
Ambrosino, who hadn’t pitched an inning all year, nearly gave up the late lead. He walked the first batter, hit the second and walked another batter to load the bases. But he struck out the next batter and got a groundout to seal the victory.
“That might have been one of the funnest games I’ve ever been a part of,” Bulls coach Kris Wilken said.