This one will last a lifetime.
In a matchup of two schools just 8.7 miles apart, the Plant City Raiders won the Class 8A State Title with a 3-1 victory over the Strawberry Crest Chargers on Thursday night at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers.
Tyler Dowdy, who had two long home runs in Plant City's semifinal win on Wednesday, gave the Raiders an early lead with an RBI single in the first and then Jarod Wingo took it the rest of the way. The junior righthander threw a complete game, three-hitter giving up only one unearned run and striking out five.
This game was a dogfight right from the start.
Strawberry Crest starting pitcher Eli Garner got the first two outs of the bottom of the first rather quickly, but that's when that potent Plant City offense went to work.
Cole Cothren singled to right and then moved to second on a wild pitch. With a base now open and the dangerous Parker Messick at the plate, Chargers manager Eric Beattie decided to put him on and bring to the plate catcher Hunter Emerine. The Raiders backstop was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Dowdy, and on the very first pitch with the shift on and three infielders on the left side of the field, the burly Plant City DH singled through the right side to plate a pair and give Plant City the 2-0 lead.
Garner got into trouble again in the third after a double by Cothren and a walk to Messick. Coach Beattie called on Jacob Heath to toe the rubber and on the second pitch he induced a 5-4-3 double play. Things got a little hairy after a pair of walks to load the bases, but Heath dialed back in and struck out Wingo to end the inning.
Then, Strawberry Crest found a way to cut into the lead.
Chargers leadoff man Tanner Kelley reached on an error and two batters later scored on a sacrifice fly by Ben Pues. Heath and Joey Parrillo followed with two-out singles but Wingo bounced back with a strikeout of Alex Marshall and the score remained 2-1.
Plant City was able to push across another run in the bottom of the sixth, but Wingo was so dialed in that it didn't even matter. The Chargers went three-up, three-down in the 7th and the Raiders went bananas in the middle of the field.
Yes, Plant City were the victors and they will never forget their first State Title in baseball in their school's history. But there really was NO loser in this game. These two teams made history by being the first two teams in Hillsborough County to face off in a State Championship game. Everyone in attendance for this game, myself included, won by being able to witness this event in person.
Congratulations to Coach Mike Fryrear and the entire city of Plant City. Job well done to Coach Eric Beattie and the Strawberry Crest Chargers.
You have all made us so proud by the way you've handled yourselves on and off the field.
These memories will last a lifetime.
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