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For one surreal postseason, they brandished courage and camaraderie, power and persistence, fortitude and fielding prowess. But at the very end, the Durant Cougars found themselves bereft of one vital quality: sleep.
Insomnia never seemed so blissful.
Well after midnight Tuesday morning, following a second rain delay, the Cardiac Cougars put the finishing touches on an 8-2 victory against Miami Palmetto in the Class 8A state final in Clermont. They returned home to more darkness than delirium, arriving back in east Hillsborough County around 2:30 a.m.
Once the Cougars rise from a full night’s rest, and realize their improbable playoff journey was no dream, they’re sure to be honored with a series of local celebrations.
For now, we commemorate their heart-wrenching, heart-palpitating season with their most memorable stats, sound bites and story lines.
Momentum, courtesy of Momma C
Clearly, the prevailing story line of the season was Durant’s persistence against an emotionally painful backdrop. Antionette “AC” Cuellar, mother of senior SS Olivia Cuellar, lost her lengthy cancer battle in the pre-dawn hours of May 4.
As recently as two weeks before her death, she was attending games, prompting senior Jordan LaFave to suggest Ms. Cuellar’s valiant fight “is probably the No. 1 reason why we’ve gotten to where we’ve gotten.”
Statistically, LaFave’s words are hard to debate. The team held a fund-raising cancer-awareness game to help benefit the Cuellar family April 5, defeating Wharton that night to snap a three-game skid. The Cougars never lost again, finishing the season with a 10-game win streak.
Did you know?
• In four of their final seven games, the Cougars rallied from deficits of two or more runs.
• For only the second time in state fast-pitch history, two Hillsborough County teams — Durant and Chamberlain (7A) won titles in the same year. The other: 1997 (Tampa Catholic in 3A, Seminole Presbyterian in 1A).
• Six Cougars had home runs in the postseason: Shannon Bell, Kelli Tidwell, Alyssa Colding, LaFave, Paige Davis, Brooke Freeman
By the numbers
3 Durant games, since the start of the district tournament, that ended with walk-off home runs
4 Earned runs allowed by ace Davis in Durant’s final three games
6 Home runs hit by the Cougars in their first 21 games
9 Homers hit by the Cougars in their last seven games
.312 Durant’s batting average in two state tournament games (20-for-64)
They said it
“There obviously were some nerves at the beginning and the game didn’t start as well as we would have liked. But we made adjustments. Palmetto was a good team. It took us a little while, but then we started to get things going. The key is we have good key hitters. There are no superstars. But we’re able to spread everything out in our lineup.” — Durant coach Matt Carter
“We teach and preach a lot about staying together. We preach it the day after tryouts. I think it showed with the end product.” — Carter
“That moment of silence at the end was for Momma C. We all wanted to win the state title. But we wanted to win it for her, too.” — Freeman
Staff writer Bob Putnam contributed to this report.