TAMPA — For eight innings, they exchanged drama with disappointment. Finally, destiny was on Bloomingdale's side.
Bloomingdale, which had lost three previous meetings against Plant, won 5-3 Tuesday night in Class 8A play to advance to its first region final since 2007. The Panthers were MaxPreps' 12th-ranked team in the state.
The Bulls had a bevy of heroes. Junior right-hander Daylon Owens had a key start. Senior first baseman Josh Mote made the play of the game in the fifth with his relay home completing a double play. Senior Logan Crouse (7-2), a Florida State commit, knocked in the decisive run with a double off the left-field fence, and pitched the final 3 2/3 innings to complete seventh-year coach Kris Wilken's signature victory thus far.
"I felt like my other guys, especially Daylon, have the stuff to get (Plant) out and we game planned I thought pretty well for them," Wilken said. "But you can game plan all you want. It comes down to the kids executing and, my kids I couldn't be prouder of them. They executed great."
Crouse's double with one out in the eighth off Plant's Stephen Chamblee (6-2) scored Conrado Skepple, who had singled. Mote added an RBI single. They were the first earned runs the Bulls had scored this year against Plant in 29 innings. Bloomingdale parlayed three Panther infield errors into three unearned runs to take a 3-2 fifth-inning lead.
Owens was the loser in the district finale April 24 against Plant. "I was throwing a lot of breaking balls for strikes, because we knew that was one of (Plant's) weaknesses," he said.
Owens left with one out in the fifth and the bases loaded. Crouse faced Plant slugger Kyle Tucker, who lofted a fly to short right. Skepple caught the ball and threw it to cut-off man Mote, whose relay to catcher Jamie Calloway cut down Nick Cerelli by 10 feet and preserved the Bulls' 3-2 lead.
"It was a perfect throw (by Skepple), so I just turned and threw it home. We been fighting with (Plant) all year and it's just a huge win for us," Mote said.
Chamblee's two-out RBI single in the seventh extended the game.
7A: Sickles strikes back
WESLEY CHAPEL — When Sickles last saw Wiregrass Ranch starter Zach Drury in the district championship, the Bull senior was striking out 10 Gryphons, holding them to no runs and no hits.
So the game plan Tuesday?
"We told them we can't let Zach do what he did to us last time," Sickles coach Bob Pagano said.
The Gryphons did almost everything right against the Bulls, from swinging the bat to running the bases to winning 7-1.
Sickles (18-7) pounded out eight hits, stole five bases and ended Drury's night on the mound after two innings. By then, Xavier Rodriguez had walked, stolen two bases, tripled in two runs and scored as the Gryphons led 4-1.
Once staked to a 4-1 lead, Sickles starter Shane Haight (5-2) took care of the rest. The lanky 6-4 righty, who balked in the Bulls' only run in the first inning, pitched a complete-game five-hitter with seven strikeouts, avenging his 1-0 loss at districts.
"He only allowed five hits against them in the district championship, so he did exactly what he did the first time," Pagano said. "I was talking to (Wiregrass coach) Marshall McDougall before the game and he actually said I'd rather face your other pitcher than face this one. He was prophetic. He was right."
Both of Haight's losses this year are by 1-0 scores. But he had plenty of help Tuesday. Levi Gilcrease had an RBI single, Troy Bacon was 3-for-3 with two steals and an RBI, and Maddux Faber and Elias Iglesias each had a double and an RBI.
John C. Cotey, Times staff writer