PLANT CITY — The previous three times Durant had faced Bloomingdale this season, the Cougars scrapped across two runs only to see the Bulls put up three.
And in the teams’ fourth meeting of the year, Durant once again manufactured two runs. But this time, with the win-or-go-home stakes that came with the Class 8A, District 7 semifinal, junior Tyler Danish threw a three-hit complete game Tuesday to give the Cougars a 2-0 win and end top-seeded Bloomingdale’s season. Durant, which entered the tournament as the No. 5 seed, will face No. 3-seeded Wharton in the final.
“It was a reach to come out here and throw a shutout against a great hitting team,” Danish said of the Bulls, who came into the game ranked No. 3 in the state by MaxPreps. “I grew up with those guys, and it was just great to finally get my revenge.”
Danish, a Florida commit, gave himself a 1-0 lead over Bloomingdale (22-4) before he took the mound when he led off with a single to centerfield then scored two batters later when he broke from third during a rundown between first and second. That proved to be all the run support he and Durant (15-8) would need.
“My confidence went up after that because we’ve struggled trying to score runs this year,” Danish said. “And putting up one against their ace in the first inning, it just put me up on cloud nine knowing I could probably win this game.”
Danish became more dominant as the game progressed, striking out six of the last nine batters he faced.
Wharton senior Collin Woody threw a gem in the earlier semifinal, giving up just two hits in eight innings while striking out 12 Alonso hitters. Woody also produced the only runs of the game with a two-run double in the top of the eighth inning as the Wildcats beat No. 2 seed Alonso 2-0. The win clinches the third berth in the region playoffs in Wharton (18-8) history and first since Ronnie Brown took the Wildcats in 2001.
“We wanted him in this situation, I wanted the ball to be in his hands in this deciding game,” coach Scott Hoffman said of Woody. “And he did exactly what I thought he would do.”
Both games lived up to the billing expected from arguably the toughest district in the state.
“Without a doubt, any of these teams could have gone at any point in time, we said that from the beginning,” Durant coach Butch Valdes said of the 8A-7 district. “We just happen to be getting hot at the right time.”
7A-9: Gaither stuns top-seeded Steinbrenner
TAMPA — A fly ball bounced off a player’s head and rolled around until the batter scored and a player was ejected in the middle of an at-bat, and for the Class 7A, District 9 semifinals, that was just the warmup.
After Freedom held off Wiregrass Ranch 5-2 to advance to the final, thanks to the aforementioned plays, it was Gaither joining the Patriots, pulling off two big rallies from four- and five-run deficits to stun top-seeded Steinbrenner in extra innings.
The Cowboys staged two comebacks, but it was only fitting on a wild and wacky night to win the way they did — with shortstop Oscar Mercado taking off to steal third and never stopping when the ball bounced past the Warrior catcher, coming around to score the winner in the eighth inning for a 10-9 victory.
The scoreboard was turned off almost immediately afterward, and Gaither coach Frank Permuy joked that was to hide all the errors committed: 11 in the game, six by Gaither.
“With that many errors, it’s unbelievable we came back,” he said.
Indeed. Gaither committed four errors in the second inning as Steinbrenner took a 5-0 lead.
But in the top of the third, the Cowboys came right back. After going down in order in their first two at-bats against Steinbrenner starter Chris Williams, Gaither scored five of its own, sparked by an RBI double by Ed Pastrana and a two-run single by Mathew Frey.
Jesse Haney’s double put Steinbrenner (17-7) back in front, and a three-run homer by Cole Gordon seemed to seal Gaither’s fate.
However, trailing 9-6 heading into the top of the sixth, Gaither took advantage of some wild pitching, which kept the inning going long enough for Mercado to tie the game at 9 on his second RBI single of the game.
And get this: Gaither struck out four times in the inning.
With reliever Alex Milne finally shutting down the Warriors (3 1/3 innings, no hits, five strikeouts), Gaither was able to take its only lead when Mercado reached on a fielder’s choice with two out, stole second then set out on his trek from second to home.
In Freedom’s win, Kyle Schindler pitched out of trouble early and struck out eight on the way to a complete-game win. He was matched by the Bulls’ Ryan Kopenski, who had one bad inning.
After retiring the eight batters he faced, Kopenski walked No. 9 hitter Jake Kitchen with two out in the third inning. Schindler followed with a home run to right-center. After another walk, Eric Schindler hit a high fly ball to rightfield. Austin Drury, who scored on Harry Olsen’s single to give Wiregrass Ranch a 1-0 lead in the top of inning, lost the ball in the sun, and it hit him in the head and bounced away past the bullpen. Running hard from the start, Eric Schindler was able to circle the bases to make it 4-0.
7A-8: Brandon 7, East Bay 0: The Eagles (15-8) have been dominant in district play, and pitcher Eric Hinostroza made sure it wasn’t all for nothing with his four-hit complete game. He also went 2-for-3 with a double, triple and three RBIs.
7A-8: Riverview 6, Hillsborough 3: Senior ace Dylan Drawdy came up with his best performance of the year, striking out a season-high 15 (and adding a double and a triple offensively) to earn the Sharks a region berth a second straight year.
4A-9: Tampa Catholic 14, Sarasota Booker 0 (5 innings): With the Crusaders’ Nos. 1 and 2 starters sidelined due to injuries, senior Cody Hernandez gave Tampa Catholic (15-7-1) another strong performance on the mound, yielding just one hit in five innings. Eight players scored runs for TC.
3A-8: Tampa Prep 4, Seffner Christian 2: The Terrapins built a 4-0 lead through six innings and held on for the victory. Senior Nick Adams picked up his eighth win of the year for Tampa Prep (14-9).
3A-8: Bishop McLaughlin 8, Brooks-DeBartolo 6: In a game twice delayed by lighting issues and another time by errant sprinklers, the top-seeded Hurricanes prevailed after the Phoenix (12-13) came back from a 6-2 deficit to tie in the fifth.
2A-8: Cambridge Christian 12, Tampa Bay Christian 0 (5 innings): Senior lefty Matt Mullins only allowed one hit in his four innings of work as the Lancers (20-5) rolled to the district finals
2A-8: Bayshore Christian 13, Academy at the Lakes 7: The Warriors improved to 13-2.
A look at some of the top performers from Tuesday.
Paulie Russo, Tampa Catholic: The heart of the Crusaders offense all season didn’t miss a beat as he went 3-for-3 with a double, two runs scored and four RBIs in Tampa Catholic’s blowout win.
Nathan Hahn, Alonso: Though the USF signee will officially take the loss, he kept Wharton off the board for seven innings while allowing just two hits and striking out seven before the Wildcats finally got to him in the top of the eighth.
By the numbers
2 Previous trips to the region tournament (1999, 2001) for Wharton, which opened in 1997. The Wildcats clinched their third berth Tuesday night
4 Years since Brandon baseball has advanced to the region tournament
“Last year, he threw a no-hitter versus Plant City, the No. 1 seed in our district, to get us into the playoffs. And this year, he got us in again. He was focused and ready.” ”
Riverview coach Bill Leiby on the performance of senior ace Dylan Drawdy in the Sharks’ 6-3 upset of No. 2 seed Hillsborough
Staff writer John C. Cotey contributed to this report.