FORT MYERS — Against long odds and a Lake Worth Park Vista pitcher who had given up only three hits through the first six innings, Plant pulled off a relative miracle Tuesday afternoon.
Batting in the top of the seventh inning in a Class 7A state semifinal at Hammond Stadium, Plant trailed by two runs.
Then they turned it on big time.
Plant’s Kirk Kolano led off by smoking a single to rightfield. Tanner Swank followed with a line-drive single. Cassius Strayer laid a perfect bunt single down the third-base line. With the bases loaded, Connor Fulmino hit a deep sacrifice fly to center. Garrett Hill singled. John Trey Freeman walked. Jackson Meade was hit by a pitch.
Plant suddenly led 5-4, which was the way it ended after the Panthers’ Mitchel Doane got the Cobras to ground into a double play and fly out.
Through it all Plant (21-7) never blinked: Not after starting senior ace senior ace Robert Satin, who came into the game with an 11-0 record, 1.17 ERA and perfect game in his last outing, was touched up for five hits and four runs in 5 2/3 innings; not after committing two uncharacteristic errors; and not after a 30-minute lightning delay just before the seventh inning started.
“During that lightning delay we talked about how we could sit here for 30 minutes and mope about how we just went down 4-2 or we could get ourselves visualized up and motivated and go back out there and do something great,” Plant coach Dennis Braun said. “I guess they decided to do something great. And that was pretty special.”
The victory sets up the Panthers for their third state title appearance and another tough battle in the final, scheduled to start at 5 p.m. Wednesday against Parkland Stoneman Douglas.
Plant, which lost in last year’s state semifinal, has only one state title in baseball, which came in 1988.
“But now we have a chance to make some more history,” Braun said. “This team has been grinding all year and now we’re going to keep grinding to the end.”
Plant’s fortitude got challenged mightily in the bottom of the third inning when Park Vista (22-4-1) rapped out a couple of hits, took advantage of a Plant error and a walk, and scored three runs to go up 3-1, marking one of the rare times the Panthers had trailed this season with Satin on the mound.
“We didn’t play great defensively at times today,” Braun said. “I don’t think we were tired. I just think we lacked some communication during some of those plays, which should have been outs.”
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Braun added that last year’s experience of losing in the state semifinal might have helped a lot this time around.
“We talked about how we didn’t want to just come down here and be happy that we’re here again,” Braun said. “Now (Wednesday) if we throw the ball over the plate and play good defense and square up the baseball, good things are going to happen. We’re doing those things and we’ve done it most of the year. If we continue to do those things then we’ll give ourselves a chance to win like we did today.”