TAMPA — Sarasota outlasted Plant 2-0 in a nine-inning Class 8A region final on Wednesday to advance to next week's state tournament in Fort Myers.
The Sailors will play Strawberry Crest on June 1 at 10 a.m.
Scoreless through eight innings Wednesday, Sarasota (17-12) generated the game's first run on an RBI double by Ben McCabe. With one out and Michael Dorso on first base, McCabe ripped a hit to deep rightfield on an 0-2 count.
Plant starting senior pitcher Brock Fagler got the second out of the inning on a fly out from Cameron Claxton. Moments later, Panthers coach Dennis Braun decided to take Fagler out in favor of Leo Oshinski.
The next batter, Evan Gibbs landed a ball into shallow leftfield, scoring McCabe and extending the advantage to 2-0.
Sarasota starting pitcher freshman Conner Whittaker took down the Plant batters in order in the bottom of the ninth to win.
In a game originally slated for Tuesday but postponed due to rain, it all came down to one chance.
The Panthers had a fine opportunity in the eighth inning with runners on first and second. Sarasota opted to walk senior Connor Scott to load the bases. Then Fagler was due up. He grounded out and the Sailors carried that momentum into the final inning.
"We just talked about how (Fagler) had to throw the ball down the middle and put a good swing on it. Unfortunately, he rolled it over and hit it short," Braun said. "That ball goes somewhere else and we look a little different than we do now. It didn't, but I was proud of him battling all day with the heat for pretty much the first time all year."
Fagler put it all on the line as usual on the mound. He surrendered five hits, striking out five batters and allowing two earned runs. Fagler looked determined after giving up a leadoff double. He didn't permit another hit until the seventh inning.
Braun called Fagler's performance "special."
"We got out of Brock what we had been getting all year," Braun said. "That is what we expected from Brock. We weren't able to string some hits together and get a timely run. They got it at the end and that is what decided the game."
Plant found it tough to get much going with its bats against Whittaker. Five hits were produced on the day, all singles from senior Mike Haydak, senior Chase Sanguinetti, Scott, junior Gabe Rincones and sophomore Reece Blanco.
"We talked about it before we faced him. He's been pitching for a little over a month, so it got him here. He's doing something right," Braun said. "He changes speeds, works in and out, hides the ball pretty well and he a did a good job against us."
The Panthers were searching for their first trip to the state tournament since 2009. Plant finishes the season 23-6 with a 10-3 record on its home field.
Braun reiterated that he was proud of his team and said he thinks that they did everything they were supposed to do this year.
"I think the season was special. We'd like to go on but anytime you can get this far, I think it is always special," Braun said. "We had some hang-ups here and there with Connor and his hamstring, which kind of limited him. It would have been nice to have him at 100 percent down the stretch, but we didn't."