PORT ST. LUCIE — The feeling was far too familiar for Jesuit junior Lance McCullers.
After the final pitch of his season, he crouched in the on-deck circle Tuesday, clutching his bat and staring out at the field as the same cruel scene played out one year later.
For the second straight year, Jesuit’s season ended in the Class 4A state title game — one win from claiming its fourth title and first since 2000 — while Archbishop McCarthy celebrated in a pile on the infield grass.
The Tigers’ end played out differently this time at Digital Domain Park. There was no one-inning meltdown, only a scattering of missed opportunities. But the outcome was the same, with Jesuit losing 4-1 to the Mavericks.
“It’s horrible,” McCullers said. “You leave everything you have every game and it comes down to you standing on deck or in the dugout to see the other team doing what you should be doing.
“It drives you, yeah, but the drive comes later. The sting hurts now.”
McCullers, who is expected to be one of the nation’s top draft prospects in 2012, held Archbishop McCarthy, USA Today’s No. 1 team in the nation, to just four hits. But the difference was pitcher Alex Fernandez’s three-run homer to left in the third.
Still, Jesuit had the tying run at the plate in the bottom of the seventh, but reliever Jose Brizuela closed out the Tigers for the second time.
The Tigers had their chances, but ended two innings on the basepaths. Adrian Chacon was thrown out going from first to third on a second-inning single, and Pete Alonso was tagged out trying to score on a passed ball that bounced to the backstop and back to the catcher in the fourth. In all, Jesuit left seven runners on base.
“I think we’ve been successful that way, by making them make perfect plays,” Jesuit coach Richie Warren said about the aggressive baserunning. “We had opportunities with guys in scoring position. It just didn’t happen for us. They hit three hard balls all day, one of them happened to be a three-run homer.”
McCullers struck out 10 and threw a complete game, but the Mavericks constantly had him on edge by stealing six bases, including three by No. 9 hitter Adam Duarte. And for a Jesuit team that made a habit of late-inning rallies, there was no final comeback.
“The stage was set today,” McCullers said. “We had an opportunity. I guess that’s kind of been our M.O., coming back in the late innings and never giving up. But we didn’t give up. It wasn’t in the cards for us today.”
The Tigers lose just one starter from Tuesday’s lineup, so they hope this loss keeps them hungry.
“I remember the same feeling last year,” said junior rightfielder Conor O’Brien. “It hurts, but I think that hurt helped us push forward and keep going. It allowed us to be those comeback kids. Every game I could feel that. For me, I could feel that emptiness inside, and I didn’t want to feel that. We’ve got to try to not allow that next year.”