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Region baseball: Plant tops Bloomingdale to extend win streak

Mathew Coker allows only three hits in the complete-game, 2-1 victory.

TAMPA — Plant’s baseball season hasn’t been perfect.

Far from it.

But it looks pretty darned good now.

The Panthers, in fact, have won five in a row, including a nifty 2-1 victory over Bloomingdale on Wednesday night in a do-or-die Class 8A region quarterfinal.

What’s up at Plant? How about starting senior pitcher Mathew Coker, who on Wednesday earned the complete-game victory, allowing only three hits on 90 pitches.

“I’m in a rhythm and I’m just going with it,” said Coker, who before a month or so ago was used mostly as a closer. “I’m feeling a lot of confidence right now.”

Related: MORE BASEBALL: A day of nothing but highs for Leto

Confidence in a five-pitch repertoire that includes a fastball, slider, cutter, curve ball and change-up, all of which Coker used on Wednesday.

Plant senior Mathew Coker fires a pitch during a complete-game 2-1 victory over Bloomingdale. (SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times)

Only at one moment, when Bloomingdale junior catcher Brock Wilken launched a huge solo homer in the third inning, did Coker look vulnerable.

“After that I just said, ‘Okay, focus on the next pitch,’” Coker said. “That’s it, that’s what I did.”

Good plan.

While Coker pretty much shut down Bloomingdale (16-9) the rest of the way, Plant (17-9) found enough offense and defense to get the job done.

Defensive highlights included two text-book infield double plays and a diving stab and rifle throw to first by third baseman Carlos Santa Cruz in the sixth inning.

Related: MORE BASEBALL: Plant City in control in a close one

At the plate, it was pretty simple: When senior Panther Gabe Rincone ripped a two-run homer with two outs in the fifth, the lead was 2-1, or all Coker would need.

“When I went up to hit (in the fifth), I just keep repeating to myself over and over, ‘See the ball, hit the ball, see the ball, hit the ball,” Rincone said. “The first pitch was a fast ball and I hit it.”

Did he ever. Right on the button.

The ball sailed over the left-centerfield fence and the Panthers, who at one stretch the season has lost seven of nine games, were on their way to moving on to a region semifinal against Plant City on Saturday.