PLANT CITY — They did it before. Maybe they can do it again.
Two years ago, Durant High’s softball team won the program’s first state title, capturing the Class 8A crown by defeating Miami Palmetto 8-2.
Tonight, the team’s quest for a second state championship in three seasons continues when the Cougars play at Harmony in the Class 7A-Region 2 final. The winner will compete in next week’s FHSAA state softball final four in Vero Beach.
Just three wins from hoisting a state trophy again, five members from that magical 2012 season — seniors Shannon Bell, Brooke Freeman, Payton Lewis, Kelli Tidwell and Cassidy Sorrells — are the driving force behind this year’s title run.
“It’s really meaningful,” Durant coach Matt Carter said. “There’s nothing like it. To get to the final four, there’s nothing like it. Winning a state championship is usually once in a lifetime. It’s very important to them. They talk about it.”
Despite an up-and-down start to the season, Durant has been one of the best-hitting teams from the Tampa Bay area this postseason.
“It’s basically been following us ever since we started with that big win (against Strawberry Crest),” said Freeman, who leads the team with 37 hits.
“No matter what happened throughout the whole season, it’s all about now — and we’re going with it.”
Against Strawberry Crest in the Class 7A-District 7 tournament semifinals, Bell had two singles, a double and six RBIs as Durant clinched a region berth. In the region quarterfinals against Steinbrenner, Bell emerged as the star again, this time hitting a three-run, walk-off home run.
“I’m just seeing the ball really well right now and taking good swings,” Bell said.
“When there’s runners on base, I just think of where to hit the ball and I try to score as many runs as I can.”
In Wednesday’s 5-2 region semifinal win against rival Plant City, Durant belted 12 hits, the team’s fourth straight game with double-digit hits. Freeman went 3-for-4 with a double, a run and an RBI.
Durant hopes its hitting streak will continue against its toughest opponent of the season.
Harmony, the No. 2-ranked team in the 7A state poll and the fourth-ranked team overall in the state, lost to eventual 7A state champion Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas last year. Harmony is led by University of Florida signee Aleshia Ocasio, who is as dangerous at the plate (38 hits, 37 runs, 32 RBIs) as she is on the mound (22-1 record, 220 strikeouts).
“We all have the drive,” Freeman said. “All of us want to go to state, and we’re all excited to have that experience in our senior year.”
“Everybody knows that we have to go one game at a time,” Carter said. “One game at a time and we’ll see what happens.”