BRANDON — Plant’s new season was much awaited. But before long, all the Panthers wanted to do was forget.
Plant began the season 0-2 after back-to-back losses to Brandon and Plant City. After the second stumble, coach Dennis Braun gave his team new instructions.
“Coach Braun tells us to be forgetful,” designated hitter Matt Vaka said. “We forgot about the two games, took it one day at a time. Even when something good happens, just be forgetful, take it day by day, pitch by pitch.”
The Panthers rode that plan through a 12-game winning streak, culminating in a 4-0 win against Jefferson in Friday’s Saladino Tournament championship game, for its first Saladino title since 2004.
The bats were hot for Plant (12-2) throughout the week. Tournament MVP Kyle Tucker went 7-for-17 including a winning home run against then-undefeated King. But Friday, when Plant had just four hits, right-hander Zach Rose’s shutout brought the trophy home.
“This may be the hardest high school tournament in the nation,” Braun said. “Fortunately, we’re set up with a few guys that can throw.”
Rose, usually a reliever, gave up three hits in seven innings in his first complete game this season. Jefferson’s Justin Sainz gave up three of Plant’s four hits in the first inning, and the Panthers took a 3-0 lead.
Plant scored once in the fourth as Ryan Ellis doubled then scored on an error. The more Plant widened the gap, Rose said, the more comfortable he became.
“When you’ve got a lead, it makes everything so much easier,” he said. “You get out there on the mound, roll through these batters and get back in the dugout so our team can score more runs.”
Just like Thursday, when they rallied past Strawberry Crest for their fourth straight Saladino final berth, the Dragons (9-5) were hitless through three innings.
For the second game in a row, first baseman Alejandro Martinez spoiled a no-hitter with a hit to right. But he became one of eight Dragons stranded.
Once Rose ended the game with a strikeout, the Panthers piled onto the mound to celebrate their first Saladino tournament win in a decade.
But once the Brandon High field cleared and the stands emptied, the Panthers planned to revert to their plan and forget.
“We wanted to win the Saladino, but our real goal is to win states at the end,” Tucker said. “We’ve got to work to that.”