PLANT CITY — Even after breezing through six shutout innings, Durant had to make Wednesday's Class 7A region semifinal interesting.
The Cardiac Cougars gave their coaches heartburn, loading the bases with one out and allowing the go-ahead run to the plate before buckling down and escaping with a 5-2 home win over Plant City.
"We have a tendency to do that," Cougars coach Matt Carter said, "one way or another."
Last week, Durant needed a walkoff homer to complete a three-run comeback. This time, the Cougars (20-8) gave the Raiders (19-7) a chance to accomplish a similar feat.
Durant's offense came through early with 11 hits, including Taylor Farrell's RBI double off the centerfield wall in the first inning. The Cougars scattered four more runs thanks to a Raiders error, sac flies by Brooke Freeman and Caylin Delones and Shannon Bell's sixth home run of the season — and second in as many games.
That 5-0 lead seemed like a large enough cushion for freshman pitcher Sloan Hammons. The Florida Atlantic commit allowed only three hits and no walks through the first six innings. She got help from her defense. Catcher Josey Hampton and leftfielder Morgan Slater made diving catches.
But the Raiders didn't let Durant coast into Friday's region final without one last fight. Noelle Dietrich opened the top of the seventh with a single. Durant made a throwing error on the next at-bat before Makenzie Allen and Jessie Moore knocked RBI singles to cut the Cougars' lead to three.
When Savana Garrison blooped a single to leftfield to load the bases with one out and the top of the order coming up, Durant needed a timeout to regroup.
"Sometimes, you've got to dig down and just pitch," Carter said.
And with Durant's season on the line, Hammons did.
She needed only four pitches to get the final two outs and send the Cougars to their fifth region final since 2002.
Matt Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.