Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Plant City seeks 'bulldog mentality' for district tournament

PLANT CITY — If the Plant City High baseball team is to achieve a higher level of consistency, now would be a good time.

Plant City entered the final week of the regular season with a .500 record and, well, that's about right. Within a week, the Raiders hung an impressive win against Bloomingdale yet also lost to Tampa Bay Tech, which it had beaten 10-0 previously.

"We're trying to bring that bulldog mentality to every game," said Raiders first-year head coach Mike Fryrear. "It's there, I know it's there, but it's not there every game."

Plant City needs it to be there Monday and Tuesday if it wants the season to continue. The Raiders are the No. 3 seed in the 7A-District 8 tournament at Riverview.

Also next week Durant heads into the 8A-7 tourney as the top seed and Strawberry Crest plays in 6A-11 action. All teams are seeking a spot in Thursday's district finals which translates to a playoff berth.

Fryrear's frustrations have resulted in recent lineup changes with some underclassmen getting playing time. Sophomore Connor Slagill has been productive all year, leading the team in RBI while batting over the .300 mark. Another 10th-grader, Trey Mathews, has excelled behind the plate.

But a senior has been the main man — both hitting and on the mound. Assuming the Raiders make it past bottom seed East Bay in Monday's 4 p.m. opener, Keven Long will get the ball with the playoffs on the line against No. 2 seed Hillsborough.

"If Keven goes down, we go down. He's been the horse," said Fryrear said.

Long pitched well last week against Durant but the Raiders lost 1-0 on an unearned run.

Another senior, Nick Rodriguez, has been the hard-luck loser of the staff and is set to take the ball Monday against East Bay. If Plant City wins, the Tuesday meeting with Hillsborough is also a 4 p.m. start.

Brandon is the top seed but might have to play host Riverview in the semis. First the Sharks take on Tampa Bay Tech in the late Monday first rounder.

All of next week's district finals are set for 7 p.m. Thursday.

Durant ended up 7-3 in its very competitive 8A-7 group. Though Alonso sported the same record, the Cougars earn the top seed to a head-to-head sweep of the Ravens.

Since the Cougars get a bye into the district semis, and a team has to win its semifinals to make the playoffs, there is zero mystery as to who will be taking the mound Tuesday.

Try the kid with a 0.00 ERA. Tyler Danish's only blemish was an unearned run in a 1-0 loss to Newsome.

"Obviously he's getting the ball," said Durant head coach Butch Valdes. "You have to win that first one if you want to go anywhere."

Durant will play Tuesday at 7 against the Monday survivor between host Bloomingdale and Plant. The Bulls did defeat Durant twice on the season, once at the Saladino tournament.

But neither time came against Danish. He has struck out 103 batters in 59 innings and also hitting close to .400 with five homers.

Alonso plays the first semifinal against either Newsome or Wharton.

Should the Cougars reach the finals it would be senior Chaz Fowler taking the hill.

In 6A-11 the Chargers lost a tiebreaker for the second seed meaning they're forced to play an additional contest. Strawberry Crest will face Armwood Monday at 5 p.m.

Host Leto would be the semifinal opponent Tuesday at 7. King went 10-0 in league play and gets the Jefferson-Sickles winner on the other half of the bracket.

Darek Sharp can be reached at [email protected]

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