TAMPA — As Kyle Tucker stood in the on-deck circle Thursday night, Plant leading St. Petersburg by seven runs in the bottom of the sixth inning of a Class 8A region quarterfinal, Stephen Chamblee gave his teammate a little last-minute reminder before he walked up to the plate.
“Hey, we need three more,” Chamblee told Tucker.
Just moments later, the junior centerfielder hit his state-leading 10th home run of the season, driving in the three runs Plant needed to end the game. The Panthers beat St. Petersburg 10-0 to advance to their first region semifinal since 2009.
“Whenever he gets up to bat, we’re always expecting a home run,” catcher Ryan Ellis said of Tucker. “I guess at that point it wasn’t a bad idea to take a hack.”
The thought of a game-ending blast had crossed Dennis Braun’s mind, too, so the 12-year Plant coach gave Tucker the green light to swing at a 3-0 pitch. But for the first half of the game, things didn’t go quite as smoothly for the Panthers at the plate.
Through the first three frames it was three up, three down for Plant, the third inning ending in a double play. St. Petersburg (17-9) had its chances early, as Jake Ferguson singled in the first inning and Aaron Haughton doubled in the second. But both times Plant (23-5) right-hander Jake Woodford — who gave up just four hits and struck out six in six innings pitched — worked his way out of the inning before any damage was done.
Once Plant made its way through the lineup one time, the offense picked up where the defense left off. Tucker singled in the top of the fourth and advanced to second on a passed ball. Then Ellis and designated hitter Matt Vaka followed with back-to-back, two-out RBI doubles to give Plant a 2-0 lead.
“Tucker is the best player on the team, so when he gets going, we all kind of follow,” Ellis said. “One guy gets a hit, then the next guy gets a hit and it keeps rolling.”
Plant added four runs on St. Petersburg throwing errors between the fifth and sixth innings, and Cooper Dickens singled to drive in the seventh run in the top of the sixth before Tucker came up with his big blast.
It was an ending Braun might not have expected just an hour earlier, when his team struggled to get so much as a hit.
“My initial thought is we just have to get a run across the board and we’ll go from there, and we did that,” Braun said. “We get that big inning, that’s just icing on the cake.”
More 8A: Logan Crouse was more effective with his bat instead of his arm.
Bloomingdale’s junior right-hander struck out eight, but his RBI triple tied the score in the seventh inning and the Bulls eked out a wild 6-5 win at Sarasota Riverview.
Julian Ossias ran for Crouse after the tying triple plated Josh Mote, who also tripled. Ossias came home on a suicide squeeze bunt by Cody Wilson.
Crouse kept Riverview (15-13) off the board in the bottom of the seventh. He struck out eight, but allowed nine hits. Only two of the Rams’ five runs were earned. Crouse was 3-for-3 with a double and triple.
Doug Sandberg, Conrado Skepple, Mote and Wilson each had two hits for the Bulls.
Skepple’s throwing error from rightfield allowed the Rams to take a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the sixth.
The Bulls trailed 4-1 before they turned three hits and two walks into three runs in the top of the sixth off Rams starter Alex Detweiler, who was in control until that frame.
Jody Royce, Herald-Tribune