PLANT CITY — Plant City was almost down and out in Saturday’s Class 8A region semifinal, its historically successful season nearing the end when Cole Cothren stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the seventh with two outs.
When he made contact with the ball, it appeared as if it would be an easy groundout for Plant. Only Cothren hit the ball so hard, the second baseman couldn’t get a glove on it, and the ball went right up his arm.
"I made really good contact. As soon as I looked up, I was just hoping it would hit the bag or something. Luckily it took a bad hop," Cothren said. "I had faith walking up to the plate that something special would happen."
The single was exactly that for the Raiders, who scored a run from second base on the play to tie the score. Moments later, Cothren would round third himself, scoring on a walk-off single from Hunter Emerine to hand Plant City the come-from-behind 3-2 victory.
Plant City will play at Seminole on Wednesday in the region final.
This season, Emerine is used to coming through in the clutch for the Raiders. The senior catcher had a walk-off double against Riverview earlier in the season to lift Plant City to a Saladino Tournament semifinal victory. In last week’s district championship win against Bloomingdale, Emerine had a solo shot to leftfield to break open a tie game.
"When you talk to him, you can definitely tell. He's very mellow about everything," Cothren said of Emerine. "Even walking up to the plate, you can just tell. He's not affected by the moment, he's just going to get the job done."
For a while, though, it was unclear whether any Raider would against the Panthers.
Plant City got on the board first in the second inning when Parker Messick doubled — the Raiders' ace went 3-for-3 on the night — then made it home on a Plant error. Tyler Dowdy also had a single in that inning with no outs, but Plant starter Leo Oshinski got a quick strikeout and two pop flies stranded the Raider baserunners.
The missed opportunity would soon come back to bite Plant City. In the fourth, Gabe Rincone took a leadoff walk, stole second, and then scored on an RBI single from JD Urso. The Panthers (17-10) weren't finished, scoring another run on an RBI single from Jac Caglianone to take a one-run lead.
Plant City (27-2) attempted a comeback in the fifth, stringing together singles from Cade Shissler, Cothren and Messick, but Gage Ricker came in to pitch for the Panthers with two outs and promptly got out No. 3 to strand them all, forcing Plant City to pull out the last inning heroics.
But no matter how his Raiders win, coach Michael Fryrear isn't the least bit surprised that they continue to do so.
“We’re winning on all cylinders. We’re winning by a lot, winning by a little, now a comeback,” Fryrear said. “This team is destined for something special, I think.”
Games at 7 p.m. Wednesday
8A: Plant City at Seminole
8A: Tallahassee Chiles at Strawberry Crest
7A: Osceola at Venice
7A: Viera at Leto
6A: Cape Coral Mariner at Dunedin
6A: Dunnellon at Jesuit
5A: Melbourne CC at Lakewood