BRANDON — The mood in Jefferson’s dugout was sleepy, and from the start of their Saladino Tournament semifinal against Strawberry Crest on Thursday, the Dragons’ bats were, too.
So in the second inning, coach Pop Cuesta had a brief meeting.
“We said, “You guys have got to stop swinging at balls and popping up,’ ” he said. “ 'You’ve got to settle down, swing at balls in the strike zone.’ ”
First baseman Alejandro Martinez finally got things going with an RBI double in the fourth inning, recording Jefferson’s first hit and igniting a rally that led to a 5-4 victory.
Jefferson (9-4) will face Plant (10-2) at 7 tonight in the Saladino Tournament championship game. The Dragons won the title in 2012 and 2011.
Strawberry Crest (9-5), fresh off Mark Moclair’s no-hitter in Wednesday’s 3-0 quarterfinal win against Plant City, started strong, stringing together five hits in the first inning to take a 3-0 lead. Starting pitcher Jake Ralyea went 3 1/3 innings without giving up a hit, and by that time the Chargers led by four.
So when Martinez came to bat in the fourth, a runner already on via a walk, all he could think about, he said, was bringing his teammate home. He did and the hit did a lot more than just close the gap.
“It kind of went off right when I hit that,” Martinez said. “We knew we were going to jump on them. We’re a good team, and we showed that (Thursday).”
After Martinez’s momentum-changing swing, the Dragons chipped away, scoring another run in the fifth and three, including the go-ahead run on a Jordan Norman sac fly, in the sixth.
Sophomore pitcher Tyler Jones, who relieved Justin Sainz after the first inning, gave up a leadoff single in the seventh, but then got three quick outs to end the game. Jones gave up four hits and no earned runs in six innings.
Jefferson, headed for its fourth straight appearance in the Saladino title game, is comfortable playing in big games.
Cuesta doesn’t have to guess why.
“Everything seems to fall into the place,” he said. “It’s been people stepping up when we needed them.”