TAMPA — It was the right move. In a tie game between district-leading teams, with no outs and a base open, intentionally walking the county home run leader was the smart play for Durant. Unfortunately, it meant having to load the bases for the rest of a potent lineup, and Panthers’ No. 4 hitter Ryan Ellis made the Cougars pay with a two-run single that put his team ahead as Plant topped Durant 7-3 in the teams’ regular-season finale.
“They have to pitch to one of us,” Ellis said. “If they don’t pitch to Tucker, then they have to pitch to Stephen (Chamblee), if they don’t pitch to Stephen, then they have to pitch to me.”
Durant (16-6) took advantage early, as Garrett Wright and Corey Hamm singled to start the game, moved around on an error and scored on a groundout and another Panthers’ error. The Cougars held the lead for a few innings before Cooper Dickens got a two-out single, followed by a shot from Tucker over the Plant scoreboard, his eighth home run of the season.
In the fifth, Plant (20-5) went to ace Jake Woodford in relief to get out of a one-out jam as Durant had a pair on, and the junior struck out two before the Panthers scored five in the bottom half to improve the right-hander to 8-1 on the season. Dickens singled in the fifth and scored the decider for a team that has scored at least six runs a game in an eight-game win streak.
“I think we’re seeing the ball better than we were at the beginning of the season,” Dickens said. “Getting our hits, moving guys over, and that turns into runs.”
The Panthers’ 1 through 5 hitters have averages above .321, with Tucker leading the county with 32 RBIs to go with a .414 average heading into next week’s Class 8A-District 7 tourney hosted by top-seeded Plant.
Durant added a run in the sixth when Cade Kelley, who had doubled to lead off the inning, was driven in by Paxton Sims.
Durant is the top seed in Class 7A-District 7.