BRANDON — Plant senior Matt Vaka said the team has been forgetful this season, but Friday night's 4-0 Saladino Tournament final win will be hard to shake from the players' memory.
“Coach (Dennis) Braun tells us to be forgetful, take a pitch at a time and if something bad happens to forget it and if something good happens to forget that too,” Vaka said. “Take it pitch-by-pitch, day-by-day.”
The Panthers offensive display carried them through the tournament pool-play, quarter and semifinal rounds. The trend continued long enough as the Panthers scored three in the first inning to top Jefferson in the final.
Kyle Tucker singled in the first moving around and eventually scoring on a Jake Bak sac fly, before Vaka tripled in a run and Max Wadsworth singled in another. From there, the Panthers turned the ball over to junior Zach Rose, who earned the win in a complete-game effort, striking out four and allowing just three Dragon hits.
“We've been getting good pitching and we got it again tonight,” Panthers coach Dennis Braun said. “I don't think he was super sharp, but he's been our reliever so we kind of taxed him tonight and he did a great job.”
“That's a big, big day for him.”
Though hitting drew the attention as Plant had all-tournament performances from Vaka and Bak, Plant (11-2) got stellar performances on the mound throughout the seven-day tournament. Rose, who was an all-tournament pitcher earning a save and a win this week, joined complete-game (five inning) wins from Bak and Chamblee in the tournament. Rose, who had a five inning no-hitter against Newsome in February, said the stage was a little daunting, but it was a challenge he was happy to have.
“It's crazy and I don't think I've ever thrown a complete-game, seven-inning shutout before,” Rose said. “It's the most amazing feeling ever.”
Plant added some insurance in the fourth when Ryan Ellis doubled with two outs and a pinch runner scored on an error. The hit was the only one allowed by Jefferson junior Keon Cusic, who came on in relief for the second inning and went the rest of the way for the Dragons.
Tucker, who earned tournament most valuable player honors, hit .411 with seven runs scored and four RBI, keyed the Panthers' pool-play win over previously undefeated King on Tuesday and scored the decider in the final.
“We came out strong and knew Jefferson was going to put up a tough game,” Tucker said. “Getting those three runs in the first, with Zach throwing a complete game and our defense backing him up, this is a great win.”
Jefferson, who scored late in a 1-0 win over Brandon in the quarterfinals and rallied to beat Strawberry Crest in the semifinals, reached second three times in the game including in the final inning, but weren't able to catch lightning a third time.
The win is Plant's fourth Saladino Tournament title and first since 2004.
PLANT 4, JEFFERSON 0
Plant 300 100 0 — 4 4 0
Jefferson 000 000 0 — 3 3
W — Rose (2-1). L – Sainz (2-2). 2B – Ellis (P). 3B – Vaka (P). Records — P 11-2, J 9-5.