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COUGARS FINALLY RECLAIM CROWN

Durant didn't have to look far a reminder. The Cougars gymnasium wall told the story - no district baseball championships since 2001.

"We had to look at it every day," Durant coach Butch Valdes said.

But the Cougars changed all that Thursday night, using a Tyler Danish homer and a strong outing from starter Chaz Fowler to defeat Wharton 5-1 in Class 8A-7, capturing their first district crown in more than a decade.

"This is something we wanted all season long," Danish said. "It feels good to make history for our school."

Danish got the Cougars on the board first, smacking a two-strike breaking ball over the right field fence in the fourth for his sixth homer of the season.

"Tyler is a great leader and a fantastic teammate," Valdes said. "It's been a blessing to coach someone like him."

The Cougars scored a pair of unearned runs in the fifth and then added two more in the sixth to make it 5-0, the last coming on a Tyler Long sacrifice fly.

"Those runs we got that gave us a little cushion were huge," Valdes said. "They were a game changer."

But Wharton, 0-10 through district play and seeded sixth in the tournament, got an RBI double from pinch hitter John Nieves to cut it to 5-1. Tucker Neuhaus was then hit with a pitch, but Fowler (six hits and eight strikeouts in seven innings) fanned Ryan Lawson with the tying run on deck to end the game.

"It was (Fowler's) to finish," Valdes said. "It was his game to take it home."

Valdes said Danish will get the ball when the Cougars (21-5) host Sarasota Riverview on Wednesday. Wharton (12-14) will travel to East Lake.

* * *

7A-8: Big second inning lifts Eagles

RIVERVIEW - One breakout inning was all Brandon needed against Plant City to repeat as district champion. The Eagles scored eight runs in the second inning to overwhelm the Raiders 9-1 in the 7A-8 final.

"Once we start hitting, it just keeps going," Brandon centerfielder Eric Hinostroza said. "It's a great feeling to be a part of a lineup that can hit the ball."

The defending state runnerup Eagles pounded out seven hits in the second to chase Plant City starter Chris Wells and put the championship game away early. No. 9 batter Jordan Feist had the big hit in the inning, ripping a double to the gap in right-centerfield to plate two runs and put Brandon (19-6) ahead 3-0.

Troy Linderman, Jacob Sugden and Drayden Williams all had RBI singles for the Eagles, which sent 13 batters to the plate in the second. Plant City (13-12) didn't help itself, committing two errors, throwing two wild pitches, a passed ball, a walk and a balk.

"One thing led to another, and (Plant City) kicked it around a little bit which extended the inning," Brandon coach Matt Stallbaumer said. "When we get in those situations, (our hitters) kind of feed off each other."

Eagles starting pitcher Ryan Anderson threw four complete innings and gave up just one run, that coming in the third when the Raiders' Connor Slagill singled home Nick Rodriguez. Anderson, a junior, struck out three and walked none.

"We really felt like it was important to let Ryan Anderson, a guy that we think can pitch for us in the playoffs, come out and get his feet wet," Stallbaumer said.

Hinostroza hit a home run to rightfield to lead off the fourth, giving the Eagles a 9-1 lead. Brandon left-handed reliever Antonio Velez came on in the fifth and held Plant City to two hits and no runs over the final three innings.

"It's always great to win one district title," Hinostroza said. "Coming back the next year and winning another makes it 10 times better knowing that we can defend our title."

* * *

7A-9: Efficient win for Steinbrenner

TAMPA - Steinbrenner and Wiregrass Ranch qualified for their first region playoff Tuesday. On Thursday, they duked it out to decide who would host.

"It's real hard as the runnerup to host any games in regionals," Warriors coach John Crumbley said. "Plus, we like our yard."

The Warriors did not disappoint their coach, as they dropped the Bulls 4-0 with two-run innings in the first and fifth on the back of some stellar defensive play and a rock-solid outing from Logan LaPace. He finished with three strikeouts while giving up five hits and no earned runs.

"We don't know what he (LaPace) throws, but three times against him and we haven't figured it out yet," Wiregrass coach Jeff Swymer said.

The Warriors got two runs off a four-hit first then opened it up in the fifth when No. 9 hitter Brennan Garcia laced a pitch to left-center, driving in two more runs. The Bulls scattered five hits and could scarcely get a runner to third; two of their five hits stayed in the infield.

Defense kept the Bulls in the game. Michael Campoamor had six put-outs from shortstop and each team had a double play.

Campoamor knocked down a ball hit right at him and threw out Jesse Haney to end the second inning with the bases loaded. Mijon Cummings had a great catch in foul territory for Steinbrenner, and Marcus Guzman made a diving catch in centerfield in the fourth inning for Wiregrass.

Correspondents Bryan Burns and Andy Warrener contributed to this report.

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