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Saladino baseball: Jefferson to meet Plant in final

Jefferson pitcher Tyler Jones, center, throws six innings in relief and the Dragons rally to beat Strawberry Crest 5-4.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Jefferson pitcher Tyler Jones, center, throws six innings in relief and the Dragons rally to beat Strawberry Crest 5-4.

BRANDON — The mood in Jefferson's dugout was sleepy, and from the start of their Saladino Tournament semifinal against Strawberry Crest on Thursday, the Dragons' bats were, too.

So in the second inning, coach Pop Cuesta had a brief meeting.

"We said, "You guys have got to stop swinging at balls and popping up,' " he said. " 'You've got to settle down, swing at balls in the strike zone.' "

First baseman Alejandro Martinez finally got things going with an RBI double in the fourth inning, recording Jefferson's first hit and igniting a rally that led to a 5-4 victory.

Jefferson (9-4) will face Plant (10-2) at 7 tonight in the Saladino Tournament championship game. The Dragons won the title in 2012 and 2011.

Strawberry Crest (9-5), fresh off Mark Moclair's no-hitter in Wednesday's 3-0 quarterfinal win against Plant City, started strong, stringing together five hits in the first inning to take a 3-0 lead. Starting pitcher Jake Ralyea went 3 1/3 innings without giving up a hit, and by that time the Chargers led by four.

So when Martinez came to bat in the fourth, a runner already on via a walk, all he could think about, he said, was bringing his teammate home. He did and the hit did a lot more than just close the gap.

"It kind of went off right when I hit that," Martinez said. "We knew we were going to jump on them. We're a good team, and we showed that (Thursday)."

After Martinez's momentum-changing swing, the Dragons chipped away, scoring another run in the fifth and three, including the go-ahead run on a Jordan Norman sac fly, in the sixth.

Sophomore pitcher Tyler Jones, who relieved Justin Sainz after the first inning, gave up a leadoff single in the seventh, but then got three quick outs to end the game. Jones gave up four hits and no earned runs in six innings.

Jefferson, headed for its fourth straight appearance in the Saladino title game, is comfortable playing in big games.

Cuesta doesn't have to guess why.

"Everything seems to fall into the place," he said. "It's been people stepping up when we needed them."

Plant rips Alonso

BRANDON — Plant's hits came in bunches Thursday.

There were shots to the gaps, blasts off the wall and bleeders that found grass. For a while, it seemed as if the Panthers might not make an out, or maybe coach Dennis Braun's arm might cramp from waving runners home.

"Nope, I never get tired of that," Braun joked.

Plant hammered out 11 hits and Stephen Chamblee took care of the rest on the mound as the Panthers reached tonight's Saladino Tournament final with a 14-1 win against Alonso in a game shortened to five innings due to the run rule.

"We get pumped up when we string a few hits together," Chamblee said. "Hitting is contagious."

Plant's bats have been lethal throughout the week. The 10-2 Panthers, who defeated Leto 9-1 to reach Thursday's semifinal, have outscored the opposition 46-6 in the tournament. Plant has handed the Ravens (12-2) both of their losses this season.

"We did a nice job swinging the bats, which we didn't do earlier in the year," Braun said. "It was nice, but we know we're going to be in more battles with (Alonso) down the road."

Plant, which last captured the Saladino Tournament in 2004, took a 3-0 lead in the fourth then sent 15 batters to the plate in the fifth. Eight of the nine hitters in that inning scored, with three Panthers crossing the plate twice.

Matt Vaka and Max Wadsworth had a pair of hits for the Plant and every starter recorded at least one.

"I feel like we all bounce off each other when we get things going like that," Vaka said. "We're playing well as a team."

Meanwhile, Chamblee settled down after giving up a leadoff double. The senior right-hander scattered four hits and struck out three in five innings. Wyatt Reid's RBI single with two outs in the final inning spoiled the shutout.

"I struggled a little with my breaking ball early," Chamblee said. "But in the end, it all worked out."

The Panthers will go for their fourth Saladino title tonight when they face Jefferson.

"I've never been to (a Saladino final), and I know most kids are happy to go to on spring break at the beach," Vaka said. "But we want to go and play baseball, so we're excited."

Times correspondent Brandon Wright contributed to this report.

Saladino final

Plant vs. Jefferson, 7 tonight at Brandon

Saladino baseball: Jefferson to meet Plant in final 03/13/14 [Last modified: Thursday, March 13, 2014 11:38pm]
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