TAMPA — Never in Lance McCullers’ baseball career has a team intentionally walked two batters to get to him.
Until Los Angeles Loyola did it Thursday. Tie game. Bottom of the seventh. Bases loaded. Just one out.
And, yes, McCullers minded. But more importantly for Jesuit, he made the Cubs pay, as he sent a 2-0 fastball to the rightfield wall for the walkoff hit that gave Jesuit a 3-2 victory in the Tigers’ fourth annual Easter Tournament. Jesuit (20-1) will play Bishop McLaughlin at 7 in Friday night’s tournament final.
“I felt disrespected when they did that,” said McCullers, ranked as a top-10 pick by MLB.com for June’s first-year player draft. “I felt confident at the plate. I didn’t have the best three at-bats in the world, but I had seen a lot of pitches and gone deep in some counts. I was ready to get that big hit.”
McCullers was previously 0-for-3 and, as he said, “struggling at the plate” this season (he entered the game hitting .289). He is, however, sporting a 0.00 ERA in 42 1/3 innings, the strongest arm of the Tigers’ staff, which for the first time this season had to turn to the bullpen early in the game.
John Kilichowski had pitched more than one inning just twice this year, but he went four against Loyola (13-5-1), striking out six of the 13 batters he faced to keep his ERA at 0.00 in 16 1/3 innings.
“I was just so fired up; I love these situations,” he said after the game with a bag of ice on his left shoulder. “Once coach (Richie) Warren yelled my name, I saw we were only in the third inning and I knew that to win this game, he would want me to go the distance to save our pitchers for the championship.”
Thanks to two unearned runs in the fifth to tie it at 2 and McCullers’ walkoff hit in the seventh, Jesuit will have its choice of arms for the championship game.