PLANT CITY — Twice in a three-day span, Plant City prepared to host Bloomingdale in the 8A-6 district championship — its first district crown since 1968 on the line — only to have the game delayed because of rain.
But after waiting 51 years, the Raiders figured, what was three more days?
On Saturday morning, Plant City and Bloomingdale resumed the game they started Friday, and Hunter Emerine’s solo shot kick started a sixth inning that lifted the Raiders to a 6-3 victory. It was a milestone, just the second of its kind in nearly 70 years of high school baseball, that was a long time coming.
“We put sayings on our lineup sheets. Today it was ‘Make history,’” said Tyler Dowdy, who started on the mound for the Raiders on Saturday. “That’s what we’ve been talking about all year, since the first game.”
The district championship was scheduled for Thursday, but a late afternoon thunderstorm pushed it back a day. On Friday, Plant City and Bloomingdale made it through two innings before the game was stopped due to heavy rain and lightning.
In the first couple frames, Plant City (25-2) pushed a run across on a Bloomingdale error, and junior right-hander Jarod Wingo went to work on the mound, giving up three singles but finding his way out of jams to post two shutout innings.
When the game resumed Saturday, Wingo was, by rule, ineligible to continue, so Plant City coach Mike Fryrear turned to Dowdy, who had started just two other games this season.
“Tyler’s always ready. He always wants to pitch. He’d be ready to pitch tomorrow,” Emerine said. “He’s just always ready, and that’s what we look for. That’s what we like about him.”
Against a good-hitting Bloomingdale squad, Dowdy found his stride, striking out the side in his second inning on the mound. In the top of the fifth, however, the Bulls (17-8) had some success against him, notching a pair of hits that included an RBI line drive from Antonio De Jesus to tie the score.
The Raiders wouldn’t give up their lead for long.
Emerine — who was named Saladino Tournament MVP after keeping his team alive with a two-run, walk-off double in the tournament semifinal — led off the bottom of the frame and sent a pitch over the left field wall for his second home run of the season.
“Everybody on this team, there’s not a moment where a guy’s in the box and doesn’t think we can get it done,” Dowdy said about his squad’s timely hitting. “Hunter has been clutch all year. He’s been clutch his whole life.”
After Emerine’s big swing, the Raiders just kept going. Wingo scored another run on a Bulls’ error, then Bloomingdale intentionally walked Plant City leadoff hitter Cade Shissler, only to issue the next batter a bases-loaded walk, scoring yet another run. Cole Cothren, who leads the team with a .459 average, followed with a two-run single to make the Raiders’ lead even more comfortable.
Bloomingdale made it interesting once again, pushing two across on three hits in the top of the seventh, but Dowdy and the Plant City defense got it done, getting a ground out to put the Bulls away for good.
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The meaning of their milestone probably won’t sink in until the Raiders come back to the field Monday for practice, Fryrear said, the Raiders’ season extended by at least one more game. Plant City will host Steinbrenner on Wednesday in the 8A region quarterfinals.
And now that the first goal of Plant City’s season has been met, Fryrear feels good about his team’s chances at accomplishing the second.
“This team is built for tournaments,” Fryrear said. “And guess what? We’re in the (region) tournament. So we’ll see how far we can make it.”