The Durant High Cougars looked nothing like their record late in the season, playing much better than a below .500 ledger would indicate. A return trip to the state softball tournament, where last year Durant made it all the way to the final four, was looking well within reach.
But on a rough night for Plant City teams in the District 6A-8 tourney, Durant could not hold a 3-0 lead, and later Plant City wasted a dramatic comeback attempt. Both the Cougars and Raiders saw their seasons end April 21 with the semifinal defeats at Plant City Stadium.
Durant, with pitcher Lauren Wolfe battling East Bay ace Kayla Cox to a scoreless duel, broke ahead with three runs in the top of the sixth inning. However, East Bay, the top seed, responded with six runs in the bottom half to prevail 6-3. The big hit was a bases-clearing double by Alyssa Caisse with the score tied.
Later that night, Plant City seemed down and out against Riverview with the score 8-1. However, the Raiders strung together six runs in the bottom of the sixth, only to see the effort lose steam and Riverview win 8-7.
"Going into the sixth, our goal was to score four runs in that inning and four more in the seventh," Raiders head coach Heidi Kouveras said. "The girls never gave up, and even though we shouldn't have been behind that much, they fought hard in the end."
After the disappointing loss - the Raiders were seeded second and expected to make the playoffs - Kouveras was still happy.
Alix Hooker, a sophomore who was one of five players on the team to finish with more than 20 hits for the season, mentioned how the squad will never forget the fight it showed in the sixth inning.
"She pretty much closed out our final thoughts for the last time for the seniors," said Kouveras, referring to the talented college-bound trio of captains: Megan Still, Tara Thomas and Amanda Alba.
In the sixth inning, Analise Coffee, nicknamed "Twiggy" because of her slender build, shocked everyone with an inside-the-park homer that scored three runs. Coffee went 4-for-4, and Hooker was 3-for-4. Plant City lost despite outhitting the Sharks 13-9.
Thomas led the Raiders with a final batting average of .482. Catcher Taylor Storey was second in hits and led in RBIs.
Plant City won its tourney opener easily as expected, 10-0 against Lakeland. Haylee Dietrich had a two-run triple.
Durant marched into the semifinals with an impressive 11-6 win over Sarasota. Kelly Jones, who was 3-for-4 against East Bay, had a homer and drove in four against the Sailors. Kelsey Horton powered two homers for Durant, doubling her total in that department for the season, and Brittany Harwell went 3-for-4. Wolfe tossed a five-hitter going the distance.
Before that, Durant closed the regular season with a 6-0 shutout of Bloomingdale, which made the 6A playoffs.
Riverview defeated East Bay 9-1 in the championship game. Both teams are playoff-bound, where they will match up with Mitchell or Countryside in this week's regional openers.
Plant City Stadium is host to the state semifinals, meaning the duties of many of the Raiders and Cougars players are not over; they will volunteer during the weeklong event.
The District 6A-8 baseball tourney got under way this week at East Bay High. Plant City and Durant were scheduled to square off in the first round Monday, but the score wasn't available by deadline. That winner was set to face Sarasota in the semifinals, and a win over the Sailors was necessary to advance to Thursday's district title match.
Sarasota knocked off national No. 1 Jesuit on April 22, giving Jesuit its first defeat all year. And Sarasota is not even the top team in 6A-8. That honor goes to nationally ranked Lakeland.
Whichever two teams are still playing for the crown Thursday (the first pitch is at 7:30 p.m.) will advance to the 6A playoffs. First-round opponents are likely to be Alonso, which most consider the best public school team in Hillsborough, and Mitchell, which would likely throw Patrick Schuster in its playoff opener. Schuster has gained national attention for his four consecutive no-hit bids.