MORE from our HomeTeam writers.
TAMPA — Sickles is under .500 on the season. But the Gryphons are moving onto the region tournament and the Class 6A, District 11 championship game after pulling off a 3-1 upset of No. 1 seed Jefferson on Wednesday. Sickles (11-12) will face King today in the final.
“They played the closest to a perfect game that they could actually play,” Sickles coach Bob Pagano said. “It’s fantastic.”
On a night when Dragons ace Jimmy Herget gave up just one earned run and struck out 10, Sickles starter Corey Johnson was better. Johnson, a senior, gave up one run in the top of the first — second baseman Jony Gonzalez singled, third baseman Corbin Olmstead doubled and Gonzalez took home on a wild pitch — and that was it. The Dragons (19-6) managed just one hit over the next six innings.
Jefferson’s only other scoring chance came in the sixth inning, with Johnson walked the bases full with two out. But he came back with three straight strikes to get out of the jam.
The performance wasn’t quite out of leftfield. Johnson took the loss in a 1-0 game against Jefferson on April 5 in which he gave up just three hits and one unearned run.
“This time I told my team, ‘You give me two runs, we’re going to win this game,’ he said. “And they gave me more than I asked for.”
Sickles, the No. 4 seed, scored two unearned runs in the top of the second. Johnson led off with a double to centerfield and took third on a wild pitch. When the next batter, Jack Machonis walked, the Gryphons called for a double steal. Jefferson read the play correctly — throwing to the second baseman who was cheating in — but the ensuing throw home sailed to the backstop and Johnson scored. Machonis scored as well on a fielder’s choice. And his twin brother, Sam, added scored an insurance run in the top of the third on a double from Xavier Rodriguez.
The result left the Jefferson dugout in stunned silence.
“That’s baseball,” said Jefferson coach Pop Cuesta, has been to the state tournament once, in 1985, in his 41 years as head coach. “We couldn’t catch and throw, mental mistakes. Like I’ve told them, at this time of year, the team that moves on is the one that doesn’t make mistakes. And tonight we made them.”
The Gryphons’ opponent in the championship, King (15-8), beat Strawberry Crest 1-0 thanks in large part to junior Tanner Williams, playing his first game after a six-week suspension stemming from a questionable call in the Saladino tournament. It was his double in the bottom of the fifth and an RBI from No. 9 hitter Kevin Buckley that proved to be the difference, as those were the Lions’ only hits.
Williams ended the game with a leaping grab and throw to first for a double play. Brett Morales went the distance for King, throwing a five-hit complete game.
“I knew I had that ball right off the bat,” Williams said of his spectacular catch. “I timed it perfect.”
Class 5A, District 11: While Jesuit ended up winning in its usual mercy-rule-inducing fashion, the 12-2 score over Middleton belies how close the game was initially. Jesuit (24-1), the top team in the nation in most rankings, took a 1-0 lead in the second on a Ricky Escobar double. Middleton (5-18), though, used several bunt hits to score two — one earned — in the third to take the lead. Max Beermann, though, effectively put the game out of reach with a two-run home run in the bottom of the inning.
“They put pressure on us all night,” coach Richie Warren said. “Lance (McCullers) probably didn’t have his best stuff, but he battled through.”
McCullers still struck out 11, giving him a county-leading 107 on the year. And though his ERA is no longer 0.00, he still leads the county in that category as well, with a 0.12 ERA through 52 1/3 innings.
Jesuit will play Robinson (11-12) on Friday. The Knights beat Blake 7-0 as Josh Jenkins threw a four-hit shutout.