BRANDON — As his team was jumping around in celebration and proving too energetic to stand still for a picture, Jefferson coach Pop Cuesta told his players to settle down and act like they’ve been there before.
Immediately, a response from the scrum: “But we haven’t!”
It’s true, this year’s Dragons accomplished something that had been done only once in program history, and done in 1991, before any of them were even born: win the Saladino Tournament. The 5-3 victory over Bloomingdale on Friday came two days after Cuesta’s 600th career win, the perfect capper to the best week of his four-decade tenure.
“This is sweet,” he said. “A nice week for these guys.”
Jefferson (12-3) moved on from pool play as the wild card, breaking the tie with other one-loss teams by allowing just one run over the first three games. Had it not been for senior Corbin Olmstead’s masterful performance in that 1-0 loss to Wharton, in which he struck out nine and allowed only three hits, the Dragons would have gone home early.
And after teammate Jimmy Herget threw a one-hitter Thursday to avenge last year’s loss to Newsome and give Jefferson a berth in the title game, it was Olmstead who came back to pitch another complete game against the Bulls (13-2), limiting their potent offense to four hits while striking out five.
But unlike the last game Olmstead pitched, which ended with the bases loaded, the Dragons got the clutch hits they needed. Down 2-1 in the fifth, Nelson Maldonado hit an RBI double to right, and three batters later Herget hit an RBI double just over third base to drive in the go-ahead run. For both his clutch hitting and masterful pitching, Herget was named tournament MVP, just the third repeat winner in the 32-year history of the event.
“In my gut, I felt like this was the inning,” Herget said. “If we didn’t get a solid hit then, it might have been over. I just sat back as long as I could and tried to drive through the ball, and luckily it went right over the bag.”
Bloomingdale starter Cody Crouse pitched 52/3 innings and didn’t allow an earned run, but the Bulls couldn’t solve Olmstead.
“I’ve been wanting this since freshman year and wanting to pitch in the championship game since freshman year,” he said, after noting he felt like he could throw another seven innings. “I tried to overthrow a little bit in the seventh inning, I got a little overexcited, three outs away from rings and the Saladino championship and just everything for years in the making.”