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Energetic Plant City Raiders fall short in region final

PLANT CITY — They often behaved as if their water cooler had been caffeinated.

As a veteran team, the Plant City Raiders were low on maintenance, but high on energy.

During pregame introductions at Tuesday's Class 5A region final, some Raiders did a cartwheel as their name was announced. Others danced in front of their dugout between innings as Cotton-Eyed Joe blared from the public-address system.

And their dugout chants? You could hear them in Lithia.

"We are not a shy bunch at all," senior catcher Taylor Storey said last weekend.

How excruciatingly ironic, then, that the Raiders' most crucial noisemaker — their bats — went silent when it counted most.

In the season's final two games, including Tuesday's 4-3 loss to nationally-ranked Bartow, Plant City (23-7) had big first innings, then failed to score again.

"I don't have an answer for that one," senior right fielder Kellsey Bruner said.

It made for a baffling, bittersweet end to arguably the best softball season in school history.

In Friday's region semifinal against Durant, the Raiders scored two runs on a pair of hits in the first, then managed only four hits the rest of the game. Still, they held on for a 2-1 victory.

Tuesday, their auspicious start didn't stand up. Plant City took a 3-1 first-inning lead on four hits — including Kacie Booth's two-out, two-run single — but managed only three hits the rest of the game.

Bartow, meantime, chipped away, tying the game in the fifth and scoring the go-ahead run in the sixth on leadoff batter Brittani McNeil's two-out RBI-triple.

"We should've been able to keep up with them," coach Heidi Kouveras said.

"You can't score in the first inning and not score again. … They knew coming into it that we were going to have to go hard the whole game, which they did. They just got too overzealous with their swings."

For this team, overachieving preceded overzealousness.

The Raiders' senior class — Bruner, Storey, ace Mackenzie Audas and first baseman Chelsea Hanks — helped orchestrate one of the program's best four-year runs.

During that span, Plant City won more than 70 games, earned three playoff berths, won a district title and reached the region title game for only the third time in program history.

"I think team chemistry has everything to do with it," Bruner said. "The amount of talent we have on the team and the way we get along, it just made for an amazing season."

Energetic Plant City Raiders fall short in region final 05/05/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 5, 2011 5:30am]
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