PLANT CITY — For one mild March evening, the Cardiac Cougars — replete with drama, trauma and triumph — resurfaced at Durant High.
As her dad lay in a Brandon hospital bed with a blood pressure flare-up, Durant junior Madi Taylor hit a two-run double down the rightfield line in the bottom of the sixth, rallying the reigning Class 8A state champs to a critical 4-3 district win Tuesday against Wharton.
“I would dedicate it to him,” said Taylor, who reported her dad, Billy Mas-Morel, was improving but likely to remain hospitalized at least one more night.
“I just kind of tried not to put that in my head because I didn’t want that to get to me. Ever since I was little my mom and dad always came to my games. They don’t miss one at all. … And I was like, ‘I don’t really want to think about that.’ ”
For virtually any other area team, the outcome would’ve been equal parts stunning and stirring, perhaps even surreal. For Durant (9-5, 3-2), it was standard.
This is, after all, the team that fastened its ponytails with pink hair ribbons (in honor of a cancer-stricken team mom) last spring and slipped them beneath rally caps (four come-from-behind wins in the last six games) all the way to the state crown.
“It was a good win,” said coach Matt Carter, who hinted he could use a few easy ones now and again. “We needed a good uplift right now after spring break.”
Specifically, they needed an offensive uplift after Wildcats sophomore Erica Matich hit her second solo home run of the night — this one to dead centerfield — in the top of the sixth to give Wharton (8-2, 3-2) a 3-2 lead.
In the bottom of the inning, senior ace Paige Davis hit a one-out double to the left-center gap, and junior Kelli Tidwell followed with a single. Taylor then hit the first pitch she saw from ’Cats ace Mak Dooley, an outside fastball, down the line.
“I knew that I was lunging for the ball,” said Taylor, who struck out her first two at-bats.
“And I was like, ‘I just need to wait on the pitch. Paige got a double, Kelli had a really nice hit. I just need to contribute to what they’re doing because I don’t want to lose this game.’ ”
Senior Alyssa Colding gave Durant an early lead with a two-run homer to left, about 10 feet beyond the 200-foot sign, with two out in the bottom of the first.
Wharton tied things on Matich’s first homer in the fourth and No. 9 hitter Kelsey Eggsware’s infield grounder in the fifth that scored Meagan Bell. But just as the tension rose, so did Durant’s mojo.
“We’re a good-hitting team … but they can’t get it all together and synchronize it like they need to do,” Carter said. “We need some good clutch hitting. Madi did a good, clutch job tonight. We really, really needed that one.”