BRANDON — Nearly every year at the Saladino Tournament, a player emerges out of nowhere to play the role of hero. On Wednesday night, it was a 5-foot-4, 125-pound freshman who was the perfect fit for the spotlight.
Brandon pitcher Chase Sparkman was faced with shutting down the county's most dangerous lineup in the Saladino quarterfinals against Plant, and the left-handed reliever retired all 10 Plant hitters he faced, preserving the Eagles' 4-2 upset win over the Panthers.
The Eagles will face defending champ Alonso in the tonight's second semifinal game at 7.
Brandon (14-6) held Plant (21-2) to a season-low two hits. Eagles pitchers, who have allowed just five runs in three Saladino games (not counting a 7-0 forfeit win over Blake), retired the final 12 Plant batters.
"I think all nine guys on the field and everybody in the dugout, they all believed," Brandon coach Matt Stallbaumer said.
The Eagles broke open a scoreless game against Plant with a three-run fourth inning, capped by Matt Bennett's two-out two-run single, and never looked back.
Sparkman entered the game with two on and two out in the fourth and the Eagles clutching 3-2 lead and induced a flyout from third baseman Graham Ramos to end the inning.
He continued to frustrate a Plant lineup that averages more than 10 runs a game.
"They started to be more conservative, waiting for their pitch, but I didn't give it to them," Sparkman said.
Alonso advanced with a 4-2 win over Freedom.
Ravens sophomore Tyler Ding drove in three runs, including a two-run single in the fifth that turned out to be the winning hit. He had a sacrifice fly in Alonso's two-run third.
Ding also got the final five outs for Alonso (19-2). Freedom (10-9) brought the game-winning run to the plate with two outs in the seventh, but Ding induced pinch hitter Bobby Mull into a game-ending flyout to centerfield.
"He's been our go-to guy at the end of the game," Alonso coach Landy Faedo said.