PLANT CITY — For the first time in their surreal postseason run, the Durant Cougars had no eleventh-hour rally, heart-palpitating home run, nor canyon-sized deficit out of which to climb Tuesday night.
The only part of this playoff contest that resembled all the others: the postgame euphoria.
The Cardiac Cougars are headed to the final four.
Durant (22-4) got a three-hitter from junior ace Paige Davis and consecutive RBI singles from Kennedy Dean and Alyssa Colding in the fifth inning to slip past Orlando Timber Creek, 2-0, in the Class 8A region final.
The Cougars, in the final four for the first time since 2008 and the third time ever, face Jacksonville Mandarin in the semifinals in Clermont on May 13.
“All of our comebacks and all of our hard work and all that we’ve been working for is finally paying off and we’re finally going somewhere with (the) winning,” said Davis, whose team rallied from deficits of 11, six and three runs in their three previous contests.
“It’s just like, we’re moving forward and we get to show people how we play as a team.”
Bent on not allowing her club to fall into another early hole, Davis retired the first 11 batters she faced Tuesday. Her tightest situation occurred in the sixth when she allowed back-to-back one-out singles that put runners at second and third.
She then forced consecutive groundouts to the Wolves’ No. 3 and 4 batters.
“Paige threw a good game tonight,” coach Matt Carter said. “She stayed on cue … and did a great job.”
All the run support Davis needed came an inning earlier. No. 9 batter Payton Lewis led off with a single, moved to second on Nikki Giovenco’s one-out base hit, and scored on Dean’s two-out single. Colding followed with another single to leftfield, scoring Giovenco.
Timber Creek got a final flicker of hope in the seventh when shortstop Olivia Cuellar bobbled a leadoff grounder by Courtney Kramer. The next pitch, however, she fielded Mia Olson’s grounder up the middle and flicked it to Lewis, starting a 6-4-3 double play.
Taillon Bernier hit the very next pitch directly to rightfielder JoJo LaFave, ending the game.
“I could see (LaFave) just running up to the ball smiling,” Davis said.
7A: Bell, Chiefs bound for state
At Okeechobee, LSU-bound Chamberlain shortstop Bianka Bell hit two more home runs to propel the Chiefs to an 8-0 region final rout of the Brahmans.
Chamberlain (25-5) is back in the state tournament for the first time since 2007.
Bell, playing with a closed right eye stemming from a recent concussion, finished 4-for-4 with four runs and three RBIs. She led off the game with a blast down the third-base line for a single, setting up Drexel-bound third baseman Ellen Scott’s home run.
Bell then led off the third with a line-drive homer — her 10th of the regular season — and added a two-run double in the fourth. Junior catcher Lindsey Hagberg went 2-for-4 with an RBI as the Chiefs collectively rocked Brahmans ace Sam Harrell.
By contrast, Chamberlain starter Rachel Dwyer tossed a four-hitter, striking out six.
“We played excellent defense,” said coach Bobby Diez, bound for his seventh state tournament. “We jumped on (Harrell) early, stayed off her rise ball and just hit the ball well.”
4A: AHN can't make lead hold up
TAMPA — Academy of the Holy Names was two outs from winning the school’s first region final. The Jaguars let a 2-1 lead slip away in the seventh inning, falling 4-2 to Fort Myers Bishop Verot.
“I told the girls you have to get more than two runs on a team that is scrappy like this,” Holy Names coach Don Barron said.
Holy Names (18-7) took a 2-0 lead in the fourth off an RBI fielder’s choice by Jackie Moreda followed by an error from Verot centerfielder Samantha Davies, who dropped a sacrifice fly and allowed Christina Gerecke to round third and score.
Kayla Maxwell kept the Jaguars alive, striking out four and allowing only one earned run through six innings. Holy Names struggled to add runs, unable to get the timely hit off Verot pitcher Annette Castaldo.
“We couldn’t get anything down,” Barron said. “I kept telling them, ‘Don’t lunge out at (Castaldo). She doesn’t throw the ball very fast, but you can’t get up underneath it.’ ”
Down 2-1, Verot (24-6) took advantage of miscues while utilizing small ball in the seventh inning. The Vikings crossed home three times, twice off consecutive suicide squeeze attempts.
Castaldo quickly shut down the Jaguars in the bottom of the seventh.
“Overall, these girls have a lot to be proud of,” Barron said. “We built on last year’s district championship team to get here and we’ll build off of this for next year.”
Correspondent Basil Spyridakos contributed to this report.