PORT ST. LUCIE — Jesuit couldn’t have scripted a better final act to this season.
After the Tigers’ 8-2 win over Hernando in Monday afternoon’s Class 4A state semifinal — a game in which they equally overwhelmed their opponent at the plate and on the mound — Jesuit has what it has wanted since last season ended on this same diamond at Digital Domain Park.
Another chance at a state championship — and another shot at Archbishop McCarthy, the team that beat the Tigers in last year’s 4A final.
Now for the crescendo — the Tigers’ rematch with the Mavericks, the fourth-ranked team in country by ESPNRise, in today’s championship game.
Jesuit is looking for its first state crown in 11 years in this — its sixth trip to the state tournament since last winning in 2000.
“It’s been too long since Jesuit’s been able to call themselves state champions,” said junior pitcher/shortstop Lance McCullers, the sole returning starter from last year’s team.
“And (today) it’s going to change.”
Said Jesuit coach Richie Warren: “We’re in the same situation as last year. I remember sitting back and telling you the same things … and then we let one inning get away from us. That’s not going to happen this year. It’s a different mind-set, different focus and hopefully a different result.”
In getting here, Warren had to take a calculated risk — to start right-hander Conor O’Brien against the Leopards in order to save his ace, McCullers, for today’s final.
The gamble paid off, with O’Brien giving the Tigers five innings of three-hit ball, allowing just two runs — utilizing his changeup to stymie a lefty-heavy Leopard lineup.
But it was persistence in the batter’s box that paid off the most. The Tigers (27-6) battled deep into at-bats, fouling off pitches until they found their pitch to hit.
“They fouled off at least 50 balls,” Hernando coach Tim Sims said. “They did a better job at the plate trying to get pitches to hit. Their entire lineup … everybody was getting in there and battling. We preach and coach that as a team, but our kids today experienced a team that actually executed it.”
Jesuit designated hitter Pete Alonso was 3-for-4 with a double and three RBIs, while first baseman Max Beerman hit a pair of RBI doubles for the Tigers.
“We’ve seen some quality arms,” Warren said. “I think through the playoff push, they’ve seen these type of pitchers and they know what to expect in those situations, when to drive the ball, when to try to just move a guy over.”
Monday’s semifinal didn’t begin well for Jesuit, which fell behind 1-0 after one inning when Hernando took advantage of a dropped third strike and fielding error to score first. But when the Tigers took a 2-1 lead in the second on Beerman’s RBI double, combined with two balks that plated Beerman, Jesuit never trailed.
And now, these Tigers get their shot at redemption.
“Now that we’re back we have a little more push,” O’Brien said. “A little more inside of us that just wants to get it done, get it done for the program, for the guys last year that were here, and for everybody.”