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District baseball: Top seeds Plant City, Bloomingdale advance

The teams split the season series, so Thursday’s final is for bragging rights and home-field advantage.

PLANT CITY — The Class 8A, District 6 championship is down to defending champion Bloomingdale vs. Plant City, a school that has not won a district title since 1968.

The top seeds made it past the semifinals Tuesday and will play for the championship Thursday at 7 p.m. Both have already qualified for next week’s region quarterfinals.

In the opening game, No. 2 Bloomingdale got seven strong innings from starter Myles Caba and had plenty of offense to get by No. 3 Riverview, 5-0. Caba scattered three hits and had six strikeouts to improve to 6-2. He allowed only one runner to reach scoring position, and that was in the seventh inning.

“I was 100 percent ready for this game," Caba said. “At this point it’s win or go home and I refused to lose. I did not want to go home."

The Bulls (17-7) used small ball to get their first run. In the second, Jackson Hobbs led off with a walk. One out later, Colby Shelton singled to right to put runners on first and third.

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Antonio DeJesus laid down a safety squeeze. The attempt to throw out Hobbs at home failed and Bloomingdale led 1-0.

Then it was time for long ball in the third. With one on and one out, Brock Wilken crushed a two-strike fastball over the left-centerfield fence for a 3-0 lead. It was his 11th home run this season.

“I was trying to react and see what (Riverview pitcher Brendan Herrick) would give me," Wilken said. “It was actually a very good pitch, I just made a good swing at it."

The three runs turned out to be more than enough for Caba. Just for good measure, the Bulls did tack on runs in the fifth and sixth innings. They also had a big opportunity in the fourth inning when they loaded the bases with no outs, but they were unable to score.

With the season on the line, Bloomingdale coach Kris Wilken was monitoring Caba closely. He had relief pitcher Nico Saladino ready to go, but he wasn’t needed.

“From a grit standpoint, and considering how good of a team Riverview is, and it’s a winner-go-home game, that’s as big as it gets," Wilken said. “It was very, very impressive. He could throw his fastball and curveball at any time."

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In the second game, Plant City fell behind after an inning but poured it on after that in a 7-1 win over rival Durant. The Cougars (18-8) touched Raiders starter Parker Messick for a run in the first.

Brendan Queen hit Messick’s first pitch for a double. He scored one out later on a safety squeeze bunt by Arpad Zsold. But that was it against Messick.

Plant City (24-2), meanwhile, got three runs in the second. Chris Rodriguez opened with a single. One out later, Jarod Wingo walked. Both runners advanced a base on a balk. They both scored on consecutive wild pitches. Messick had an RBI double for the third run.

The Raiders put up three more in the fourth. The highlight of that inning was a two run double by Tyler Dowdy.

After the first inning, Durant only got one runner to third base. This was the fourth time the intra-city rivals have met. Plant City won all four on the field but had to forfeit the Saladino tournament final to the Cougars due to a pitch count violation.

One of the Raiders’ losses this season was to Bloomingdale.

“I was going seven," Messick said. “I wanted to win this for the team, the community, the coach. Just wanted to win it. It didn’t really bother us that they got a run in the first. The team had my back and I knew they would pick me up.

“There’s nothing more I love than beating those guys. A couple of those guys are my friends, but I love beating our cross-town rival. Now it’s pay back time (against Bloomingdale)."