TAMPA — For a team that won last year's state title game in dramatic fashion, it was late-inning drama that helped Steinbrenner beat Plant 3-2 on Tuesday in a nine-inning Class 8A region semifinal.
After Plant senior John Shields' tying homer in the seventh sent the game into extra innings, Steinbrenner's Tyler Lala scored the winning run in the ninth on a misplayed flyball hit to the outfield by Cam Coakley.
"I don't know if it was the wind or something we got lucky and it came to our advantage," said Lala of the flyball. Lala singled to open the ninth inning before coming around to score on Coakley's flyball.
With its first win against Plant (21-6) in four tries this season, Steinbrenner (18-9) advances to next week's region finals against the East Lake-Sarasota winner (inclement weather pushed the semifinal back a day).
Behind masterful pitching by Huston Richter and a solo home run in the third by Lala, Steinbrenner led most of the game. Ryan Glass drove in the Warriors' second run with a sacrifice fly in the fifth.
Then in the seventh, the night turned bittersweet for Richter when he exceeded his planned pitch count.
"He pitched excellent," Steinbrenner coach John Crumbley said. "I should not have put Huston in the seventh and luckily we pulled it out in the end."
He had shut Plant out to that point and got out of some tough jams, striking out Plant batters three different times with runners on.
Conner Scott came on in relief for Plant, allowing an unearned run in 5 1/3 innings. Plant stranded 10 runners, including three in the decisive ninth when the Panthers loaded the bases but could not score.