PORT ST. LUCIE — Plant's formula to success this postseason was late-inning patience.
Take away a 10-run win to clinch the best-of-three region final, and the Panthers didn't score much. In each of their other three region tournament wins, they needed only three runs or fewer for victory. And that included two walkoff wins.
So when they went into the sixth inning of their Class 5A state semifinal against Stuart South Fork on Monday tied at 2, they liked their chances.
"It kind of felt like the Jesuit game in the region semifinal," Plant rightfielder Jake Lowe said of their 3-2 win over the Tigers. "They got a lead early and we scrapped back and won. If you look back at every one of our games in the playoffs, it came down to a clutch hit in the end."
And even though Plant ace Mychal Givens' fastball was still reaching the mid 90s into the sixth, the Bulldogs — the team that was one win from a state title until falling to Dunedin — tagged Givens for three runs in the bottom of the sixth to hand the Panthers a 5-2 defeat.
"When they strung those hits together, with every hit your heart dropped a little more," senior shortstop Graham Ramos said. "They were just waiting for their pitch."
A two-out, seeing-eye single up the middle by South Fork designated hitter Blake Nehls off Givens scored the go-ahead run. The next hitter, No. 8 Nick Guillotte's two-run double to the left-center gap sealed the game.
In the final start of his high school career, Givens — one of the top high school senior prospects in the nation — allowed just six hits and struck out 10, including three straight going into South Fork's game-winning rally.
"A blooper, that happens to everybody," Givens said. "It happens in Game 7 of the World Series. The same thing happens to the Yankees."
The Panthers (24-9) outhit South Fork 7-6, but they stranded seven in scoring position, including one on third and two on second.
"We outhit them, just not at the right time," Lowe said. "They got the hits at the right time."
Plant fell behind 2-0 after one inning, but scored one run in the second on Stan Rowe's RBI single and added another in the fourth on Joe Hudek's single, which scored Mike Demo, who hit a one-out triple.
"This has been a special year," Plant coach Dennis Braun said. "They grinded tonight like they've grinded all year. I'm proud of them. They never stopped fighting. That's all you can ask for from the team."