PORT ST. LUCIE — Brett Maggard said it was a great senior season, and nothing that Jesuit did to him Monday — and the Tigers did plenty — was going to change that.
The Leopards won three playoff games; only the 1967 champions had ever matched that.
They won 26 games.
They made it here.
But while Maggard may miss the bus rides, his teammates and his time as a prep standout, he won’t miss Hillsborough County.
Last year, when he pitched for Springstead, he gave up 12 runs in a playoff game to Armwood, ending his junior season.
Monday afternoon, he gave up nine hits to Jesuit at the Class 4A state semifinals, ending his high school career.
“(Hillsborough County teams) are always ready,” he said, his left arm and elbow packaged in ice. “They just came in and hit.”
Jesuit’s 8-2 victory at Port St. Lucie’s Digital Domain Park was no big surprise, even if Hernando had assembled something of a county all-star team with all the transfers.
The Tigers are still the class of Tampa Bay, having won three state championships with 12 other trips to the semifinals.
When the two former rivals from another era usually meet this deep in the playoffs, things don’t seem to go well for Hernando. Like in 1993 when Troy Carrasco threw a no-hitter and struck out 16 in a region championship showdown, their last significant matchup.
And this was a Jesuit team on a mission.
While the story in Brooksville was about a team returning to the state semifinal for the first time in 44 years, in Tampa it’s about Jesuit avenging a loss in its last state semifinal appearance.
Like, last year.
“You’ve got to bring your lunch pail to the park every day, and that is Hillsborough baseball,” said Hernando coach Tim Sims. “It’s the mecca of high school baseball in the state of Florida. McGriff, Boggs, Sheffield …
He could have gone on and on and on.
But the Leopards hopped on the bus to Port St. Lucie convinced the underdogs could win, a feeling that swelled with the sight of Jesuit’s Conor O’Brien, who hadn’t pitched since April and was considered the Tigers’ No. 3 pitcher, warming up to start the semifinal.
“Of course,” Maggard said. “I’d much rather see 85 (mph) than 95.”
The Leopards thought Jesuit coach Richie Warren’s decision to save ace Lance McCullers Jr. — he of the mighty right arm that throws bolts of lightning past hitters — for a potential state title game was the opening they needed, not to mention a bit insulting.
After a an error and a Maggard single gave the Leopards a 1-0 lead in the first, it was cause for joy, the perfect start.
But it’s hard to imagine McCullers doing any better than O’Brien, who got a double play to end the first inning and had retired 14 of 15 Hernando batters into the fifth inning.
Maggard, however, was throwing against a brick wall.
He only struck out McCullers twice, looking. Everything else seemed to be hitting Jesuit’s bats.
The Tigers fouled off pitches until they got what they wanted. When they got what they wanted, they hit it hard.
Every starter had at least one hit, and the Tigers had two hits in every inning but the first and last.
In between, it was tough to find an out.
The bags of ice on Maggard’s arm told the story.
John C. Cotey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org