Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Sports

Controversial loss still stings Plant City baseball team

Foul weather was the Tampa Bay area norm for the first round of the regional baseball playoffs.

But for foul endings, Plant City had no peer last week.

The Raiders walked off a muddy field May 2 believing they had won a rain-shortened game 2-1 against Lakeland Jenkins. Even though Jenkins had tied the score at 2-2 in the bottom of the seventh, umpires ruled the game reverted back to end of the sixth inning because rain halted completion of the seventh.

Plant City went home happy.

But a day later, the Florida High School Athletic Association reversed the call, saying the umpires misapplied the rule. Plant City returned to Jenkins May 4 and quickly suffered a 3-2 loss after the resumption of the game.

It's been nearly a week, but the team's controversial defeat still stings.

"We felt like we got gipped," said Raiders head coach Mike Fryrear.

Plant City held the lead through six innings and Fryrear said there were no indications Jenkins would stage a comeback against team ace Keven Long.

A hard rain began at the top of the seventh, but play continued despite Fryrear's protest.

"Our guys never should have been up to the plate," said Fryrear, referring to the top of the seventh inning.

He made three relatively calm, yet impassioned, trips to the umpires to plea the game be called. His disbelief only grew more when umpires allowed the game to continue in the bottom of the seventh, giving the home team a chance at victory.

Fryrear described the rain as a monsoon, noting that puddles formed along the bases. Ground balls splashed on their way to fielders. And Long went from being in total control to having to have third baseman Zack Mondoux come over with a towel to attempt and dry the ball between pitches.

"The pitching mound was like a lake," Long said. "The ball was soaked with water. It was pretty bad."

Long became sure action should stop when the bat flew out of the hands of a Jenkins player, nearly taking down the on-deck hitter.

Various issues were at play. The umpires didn't want to end a team's season without giving it every chance to finish, and postponing the game would mean Plant City would have to trek back to Lakeland just to complete a half-inning.

So play continued, but Long's struggles to grip the ball resulted in him hitting two batters, one more than he had plunked all year, and Jenkins eventually scored the tying run.

"He lost the ball," Fryrear said. "He was just guiding it in there. This is a guy who pumps the fastball 84-85, and was getting it in the upper 80s but then had to toss it in at 75."

Immediately after Jenkins tied the game, the umpires decided to stop the action. After a call to FHSAA headquarters in Gainesville, the umpires ruled Plant City the winner.

It was Jenkins' turn to be furious.

"Fans were not happy," Fryrear said. "They were heckling us. I told our guys to be professional about it and save their celebrating for the bus."

Most Raiders went to sleep thrilled for a shot at the regional semifinals at Haines City, where Long would have been ready to pitch again. But FHSAA officials later ruled that if the home team ties the game, it is allowed to finish up the inning.

Fryrear said he talked to several area veteran coaches.

"They told me a regional playoff has to be finished no matter what," he said.

By the way, none of the Raiders wanted the win handed to them.

"I would've had no problem giving (Jenkins) a chance to finish," Long said.

The problem was that chance was given in the horrid weather conditions, whereas in normal weather, Plant City was much more likely to hold on.

So indeed Plant City returned to Lakeland Saturday afternoon, ready to play four or five innings.

But it was over after one pitch.

Jenkins head coach Jim Kilbourne decided before the game to have No. 9 hitter Chris Starr lay down a bunt with runners on first and third. The squeeze play worked as Raider reliever Miguel Martinez and Mondoux had a brief miscommunication and Starr beat the throw.

Still, the downtrodden Raiders handled themselves with poise.

"Our kids showed so much class," Plant City athletic director Traci Durrance said. "I'm very proud of the young men they are becoming, no matter how wrong a hand they were dealt. They are winners on and off the field to me."

Asked what was worse, the rainy nightmare or the one-pitch finish, Fryrear said neither.

It was the day in between.

"Because we felt it was taken away from us," he said. "At least Saturday we knew we still had a chance. We knew we could still make a good run at states. I tried to stay away from the players as much as possible. Tried not to talk about the incident whatsoever."

But they'll be talking about it for a while now.

By the way, Haines City beat Jenkins 14-5 in Tuesday's regional semifinal.

Darek Sharp can be reached at [email protected]

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