PLANT CITY — For Durant coach Butch Valdes, it was as true six years ago as it was Saturday night: there was no way Kissimmee Osceola was going to beat his Cougars on their home field.
“For me, it was one of those things,” Valdes said. “You come into our house, and we’ve been flawless in our house. We’ve been perfect right here at home.”
And with the same goal on the line as in 2015 — a berth in the state semifinals — Durant came through again, this time making a solo home run from sophomore Dylan LaPointe stand up in a 2-1 Class 7A region final victory.
Now with a 22-5 record, finishing a perfect 12-0 at home, Durant will take on Spruce Creek on Friday morning at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. Spruce Creek knocked off Lake Brantley 5-1 Saturday.
Playing with aggression from the opening pitch paid off for the Cougars, and especially for LaPointe when he stepped to the plate with one out in the bottom of the fourth inning.
“We don’t try to take strikes no more,” he said. “When we do, we always fall behind and it makes it worse on us, so we always try to attack if we see a pitch is there.”
And with three inning of surveillance — “We all pay attention and we get info from our batters to see how it is” — LaPointe was prepared.
“The first pitch I saw was a hanging changeup and I though I’d take advantage of it. I wasn’t really expecting it to go out but the ball was carrying and it ended up over the (right-centerfield) fence. That was a big run right there.”
It certainly was, pairing with Dean Hotz’s first-inning sacrifice fly that scored fellow senior Thomas Allen (single) to give the hosts a 2-0 lead. And especially when Osceola reliever Danny Ramirez came in and shut the door over the final two innings, giving up no hits and striking out three.
As in its semifinal victory over Sarasota Riverview, Valdes rode senior starter and University of Tampa commit Alex Canney — back for a week from a serious ankle injury — as long as he could knowing USF commit Sean Hermann could step in at the first sign of trouble.
Canney battled, allowing three hits and two walks with runners reaching in each of his 2 2/3 innings, but none crossed the plate. The senior’s highlight was in the second where he struck out the side after giving up a lead-off single to Edwin Melendez (two hits on the night).
“We were looking for three innings from Alex,” Valdes said. “Four would’ve been a gift.”
Hermann came in a stopped a two-on, two-out threat in the third, but ran into some control issues in the fifth. Lead-off man Izaiah Jean Baptiste poked a one-out single but was caught trying to steal second. That was huge as Sebastian Burgos followed with a walk while Josean Sanchez singled, then Hermann uncorked two wild pitched to plate Burgos and put the tying run 90 feet away from scoring.
“Sean’s always challenging because his ball moves so much,” catcher LaPointe said. “But I love challenges. It always keeps me on my toes.”
And it caused Hermann to up his game as well as he struck out Jose Antonio Perez to end the threat.
“I’d probably say my slider was my go-to pitch,” Hermann said. “Coming off the fast ball, it kind of gets the batters off balance.”
Osceola (20-8) challenged again when Ramirez and Edwin Melendez led off the sixth with back-to-back singles but Hermann bore down. The senior mixed pitches well to retire the final six batters he faced including two of his six strikeouts to end the game and start the celebration.
“My brother (Jonathan) was in the same situation (in 2015),” Hermann said. “I watched my brother play and I’ve always wanted that dogpile (of players celebrating a big win). There were no nerves, just pure fun when you’re playing baseball.”
And after his new case of deja vu, Valdes could finally look ahead.
“Osceola is a scrappy, scrappy team and a class act. We weren’t thinking ahead, only of them. Now we’ll take a break, regroup and create a game plan for (the semifinals) Friday morning.”
Region baseball finals
7A: Durant 2, Kissimmee Osceola 1
6A: Bloomingdale 4, Naples Gulf Coast 3
2A: Mount Dora Christian 5, Seffner Christian 4
2A: Sarasota Out-of-Door 4, Bishop McLaughlin 1
All games at 7 p.m.
5A: Land O’ Lakes at Jefferson
5A: Osceola at Naples Barron Collier
4A: Cape Coral Mariner at Dunedin
4A: Orlando Bishop Moore at Nature Coast
3A: Orlando First Academy at Berkeley Prep
State baseball semifinals
CenturyLink Sports Complex, Fort Myers
Class 7A: Durant vs. Port Orange Spruce Creek, 10 a.m. Friday
Class 6A: Bloomingdale vs. Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer, 7 p.m. Friday