Junior Steven Otterness was supposed to be one of Gaither's top three starting pitchers all along. The 6-foot-3 lefty impressed Cowboys coach Frank Permuy enough last summer to earn a spot in the rotation.
But 16 games into the season, Otterness had thrown just three innings _ all in relief. That changed Saturday at Gaither.
Otterness tossed a complete-game six-hitter in his first start of the season and struck out seven in an 11-3 win against Wharton.
"I don't know if he lost confidence or what," Permuy said. "I'd love for him to be a starter. You need four or five pitchers in this tournament if you are going to go all the way."
At one point Otterness threw 21 consecutive strikes.
Gaither batted around in the sixth inning and blew the game open with six runs.
Centerfielder Nick Palazzolo, who made two outstanding catches, led the Cowboys (9-7) with four RBIs and three runs, one shy of tying the tournament record. His bases-loaded triple scored Victor Fernandez, Alex Bueno and Ty Taborelli in the sixth.
The Wildcats, who were pummeled 18-5 in the season opener against the Cowboys on Feb. 12, took a 2-0 lead into the third inning. But Otterness settled in and allowed three runners past first base the rest of the night.
KING 12, CHAMBERLAIN 2: King (10-6) cruised past Chamberlain (7-7) as the Lions scored five in the first inning and built an 8-0 lead before the Chiefs got on the board in the sixth.
Panthers edge Dragons
Plant's motivation was twofold heading into the opening round: First, win and get off to a good start in pool play in the Yellow Division, and second, beat Jefferson and avenge one of its two losses.
The Panthers did both, beating Jefferson 3-2. However, they needed some big plays to pull it off.
Plant (13-2) seemed to have the game in hand in the seventh inning when a Jamie West infield single scored Ryan Hudson to put the Panthers ahead 3-1.
But Jefferson (7-6) rallied in its final at-bat, adding a run when Gerald Smith doubled to leftfield to score Julio Pacheco. But with two runners aboard and one out, Alfredo Cabale's line drive was snared by Plant first baseman Kyle Williams, who completed an unassisted double play to end the game.
Plant's David Gandy (5-0) pitched 5 innings for the win and allowed four hits and struck out four.
HILLSBOROUGH 10, BLAKE 0: In the opening game, Hillsborough got a two-hitter from freshman Mark McClure to shut out Blake. The win also came in McClure's first career start and was highlighted by a five-run fourth by the Terriers (7-8).
_ ROD GIPSON
Ravens, Gryphons win
Alonso made a grand entrance and Sickles showed why it is the defending champion as both teams used outstanding pitching to win games at Sickles.
Alonso, a first-year school, rode Michael Harley's complete-game two-hitter to a 2-1 victory against Robinson. The Ravens scored the winning run on a throwing error in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Sickles got a combined six-hit, 10-strikeout performance from Brian Scoville and Chris Delaney in a 4-1 triumph over Leto.
Alonso (4-11) scored the winning run after Dave DelGuercio drew a leadoff walk from loser David Koons and raced home when Chase Fontaine's sacrifice bunt was thrown down the rightfield line by catcher Nick Ippolito.
Harley (2-4) allowed the game's first batter to score on a wild pitch, but only three other Robinson baserunners advanced as far as second the rest of the way.
Sickles (8-5) also got solid pitching from Scoville (2-1), who struck out eight and retired 12 consecutive batters at one point. However, Scoville gave up a run on three singles with one out in the seventh.
Delaney then registered the save by striking out the only two batters he faced.
_ DON JENSEN
Hawks top Titans
TAMPA _ Armwood (12-3) and Tampa Bay Tech (4-9) needed an extra innings to decide their first-round game, with the Hawks scoring two runs in their last at-bat to rally for the 3-2 victory.
Tied 1-1 in the eighth, TBT's Alejandro Ford was hit by a pitch from Armwood's Daniel Fox. Ford stole second on the next pitch and scored on a single by Cory Alvarez to give the Titans a 2-1 lead.
But the Hawks responded in the bottom half of the inning with two runs.
After fouling off 10 pitches, Armwood's Matt Joyce hit a game-tying triple.
Steve Carmen followed with a lazy fly ball over the head of the TBT second baseman to score Joyce for the win.
The Titans lost despite an eight-inning, eight-strikeout performance from starter Yuri Higgins.
BLOOMINGDALE 4, DURANT 3: The Bulls ended a 12-game Cougars winning streak with a three-run sixth inning.
An RBI double from Ryan Hutchinson started the scoring and a two-run single by pinch-hitter Shawn Hirsch would be enough for Bloomingdale's pitching to hang on for the win.
RIVERVIEW 6, EAST BAY 3: Riverview shortstop D.R. Warfield blasted a 350-foot three-run home run to lead the Sharks. Warfield added a double in the sixth and scored on a triple by Mario Richardson.
_ JARRETT GUTHRIE
DIVISIONS: Red _ Robinson, Alonso, Leto, Sickles; White _ Bloomingdale, Durant, East Bay, Riverview; Blue _ Chamberlain, Gaither, King, Wharton; Green _ Armwood, Brandon, Plant City, Tampa Bay Tech; Yellow _ Blake, Hillsborough, Jefferson, Plant.
HIGHLIGHTS: A home run derby will be held at 4 p.m. Saturday before the championship game.
MONDAY'S SCHEDULE: At University of Tampa _ Plant City vs. Tampa Bay Tech, 1 p.m.; Armwood vs. Brandon, 4; East Bay vs. Bloomingdale, 7. At Jefferson _ Durant vs. Riverview, 1; Hillsborough vs. Plant, 4; Jefferson vs. Blake, 7. At Sickles _ Robinson vs. Leto, 4; Sickles vs. Alonso, 7. At Gaither _ King vs. Wharton, 4; Gaither vs. Chamberlain, 7.