PUNTA GORDA — The rain pelting their hats hit harder than any wake-up call.
Plant's players will crawl out of beds at a worn, weathered hotel more than 100 miles from their cozy South Tampa homes after splitting Friday's first two games of the Class 5A best-of-three region final against Charlotte.
Like the weather, Plant was hot then cold.
The Panthers (23-8) eked out a 2-1 extra-innings win in Game 1 but were stymied at the plate in a 5-3 loss in Game 2. The winner of today's 1 p.m. game goes to the state semifinals.
Three of Plant's past six games have come with the threat of elimination, so it believes it thrives under pressure.
"It's been this way since the playoffs started," pitcher Jake Lowe said. "I think it suits us better when these close games mean a lot. We're ready to go. I wouldn't have it any other way."
After Friday's games, Plant coach Dennis Braun said all three of his aces should be available.
Lowe, who pitched a solid Game 1, went six innings with a huge effort in his final three outs. With runners on second and third and no outs, he struck out three of the next four batters to end the threat. He allowed three hits and struck out six for the game. Sergio Pita, who will start today, ultimately finished off the Tarpons (21-11) for the win.
Offensively, Conner Mitchell won the game when he stroked a single up the middle in the eighth inning to score Mike Demo from second. Mitchell also singled in the third inning for a 1-0 lead, driving in Conner Shimberg.
In Game 2, Plant believed it had the upper hand with ace Mychal Givens headed to the mound. Givens pitched solidly but committed three throwing errors that led to runs and a 3-0 deficit.
After four innings, Givens moved to shortstop, having allowed four hits and striking out eight. Dylan Henderson came on and helped the Panthers scrape together its first run in the fourth with an RBI single.
Plant got two more runs on singles by Shimberg and Demo but stranded two at third.
"This team plays loose, and they've grinded all year," Braun said. "We played as many close games as we'll probably play in five years. They know how to be in that situation. They know how to react."