BRANDON — Plant's prospects of advancing into the elimination portion of this year's Saladino Tournament took a hit when the Panthers dropped their opening game Saturday.
"It didn't look good for us," Panthers senior Jake Lowe said.
Since then, Plant's pitching has been nothing short of marvelous, and the Panthers' third straight shutout — a 2-0 victory over Brandon on Wednesday that bounced the defending champs — propelled them to today's semifinals, where they will face Alonso, a 10-0 winner over Tampa Catholic in six innings.
Wednesday's elimination game belonged to Lowe, who threw a complete-game four-hitter and drove in both runs with a double in the fifth, giving the Panthers the win in a rematch of last year's quarterfinal.
In three games since their 7-6 loss to Plant City in the tourney opener, the Panthers (15-5) have outscored opponents 26-0.
"I think we started to jell after that game," said coach Dennis Braun, who won his 100th game at Plant. "It rallied the troops. I've got confidence that our pitching will keep us in the game. We've started to recognize that if we get a couple of runs we have a good chance to win the game."
A single, fielder error and a hit batter loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth, setting the stage for Lowe's winning double down the leftfield line.
Brandon (15-5) outhit Plant 4-3 and had baserunners in each of the first six innings, but twice stranded runners at third.
"I just tried to get ahead of hitters," said Lowe, who improved to 4-2. "I knew we had to do well with runners in scoring position and not make mistakes."
Alonso (17-2) advanced with an offensive attack that included two homers early and a five-run fifth inning that put the game away, snapping Tampa Catholic's 13-game winning streak.
Thomas Dorminy's three-run homer in the first and Tyler Ding's solo shot in the third put the Ravens up 4-0. The Ravens then took advantage of a fielding error in the fifth, hitting back-to-back RBI doubles by Casey Smit and Dorminy, followed by three straight singles (capped by Jose Fernandez's two-run single).
"This was the big boost we really needed," said Smit, who added an RBI double in Alonso's five-run fifth. "It was good to go out there and beat a team that was hot like them."
Dorminy, who finished with four RBIs, threw six shutout innings and allowed just five hits while striking out 10.
The Crusaders (14-5) stranded the bases loaded in the third with one out after Dorminy struck out the next two batters to end the threat. Tampa Catholic also left runners at second and third in the fourth inning.
"It's a maturity thing," Alonso coach Landy Faedo said. "Whenever he gets in a pickle, he can get out of trouble."
J.D. Diaz was 2-for-3 for the Crusaders.