A Cinderella run through the district and regional playoffs that saw the program punch its first ever ticket to the state final four in the 60-year history of the school saw everything go oh so very wrong for the McArthur baseball team on Wednesday night.
The Mustangs fell behind by two runs before they even got their first at-bat and only saw things get worse from there as they fell hard to Plant City 8-0 in a Class 8A state semifinal at CenturyLink Sports Complex. The Raiders (29-2), making their first state final four appearance since 1965 when they won the state title, advance to Thursday’s 8A title game against Dover Strawberry Crest at 7:30 p.m.
McArthur (15-7), which had only made regional play three times in the history of the program before this year, winning just one game (2003), proved no match for Plant City.
A team that had not given up a single run in three regional playoff wins saw its staff pummeled as the Raiders pounded out 12 hits including three home runs en route to the lopsided win.
“A difficult night for sure,” said McArthur head coach and former major leaguer Oddibe McDowell. “Plant City came out and hit well, pitched well and when your kids can’t match that, it’s tough to win.
“Early on was definitely important. Coming in to something like this for the first time where these kids haven’t been in this arena before, you really want things to go well early on to give the kids a little extra confidence and unfortunately it was the opposite as we had a difficult time.”
After firing a no-hitter at St. Thomas Aquinas in a regional final to help punch his team’s ticket to state, there was nothing smooth about Mustang pitcher George Hernandez’s start on this night.
Hernandez struggled right out of the gate as he gave up a base hit to lead off the game followed by a walk, a wild pitch (runners advanced), base hit, walk and another base hit. When the dust had cleared, the Raiders had scored twice to go up 2-0.
“I don’t know, that first inning was not good,” said Hernandez. “I thought the (strike) zone was a little inconsistent, I tried to work the count but they’re good hitters and when you don’t get the corners and have to leave it out over the plate, good hitters are going to make you pay.”
Offensively, the start was even worse for the Mustangs as Plant City starting pitcher and Florida State commit Parker Messick was unhittable to start the game as he struck out eight of the first 10 McArthur batters he faced.
A two-out double by Yordys Valdes just inside the right-field line in the first and a groundout to shortstop by Joseph Desanctis in the third were the only non-strike outs for the Mustangs in the first three innings. Messick never stopped dominating, finishing with 16 strikeouts, just three hits and didn’t walk a single batter.
Things only got worse for Hernandez in the third when, with one out, designated hitter Tyler Dowdy launched a towering shot well over the fence in left-center field to put the Raiders up 3-0.
Plant City wasn’t done as Hernandez gave up two more base hits and a walk before his night came to end, relieved by Ulises Rodriguez as PC was up 5-0 after two-and-half innings.
Said McDowell: “This season was still a great accomplishment. Our primary goal was to win a district title and we went well beyond that so this is a great step for this program. We’ve established ourself as a winning program and want to keep it going from here.”