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BRANDON — In a span of two seventh-inning pitches Thursday, reed-thin Jefferson ace Jimmy Herget nearly lost his pitching hand and did lose his mouthpiece.
But his masterpiece never got away from him.
In one of the most brilliant complete games in recent Saladino Tournament memory, the 6-foot-3, 155-pound USF signee tossed an 82-pitch one-hitter to lift the Dragons (11-3) to a 2-1 semifinal triumph against Newsome.
In the process, Herget helped avenge a loss to the Wolves — by the same score — in last year’s Saladino title game, and cemented his case for a second consecutive tournament MVP award. In 10 tourney innings, Herget has allowed four hits and one earned run, striking out 16.
“The fire in my stomach from last year, us losing to them, I just went out and tried to put everything on the line, just everything,” said Herget, who didn’t pitch in the 2011 final.
“I just love it. It’s great.”
Three days after working three shutout innings against Hillsborough, Herget struck out nine, retired the first nine batters he faced, and forced seven ground-ball outs.
He got all the offense he needed when the Dragons scored two third-inning runs off two hits and three walks. Peter Cordero’s bases-loaded walk drove in the decisive run.
“It was his best game of the year,” said Dragons coach Pop Cuesta, who seeks his second career Saladino title at 7 tonight. “He pitched very well, spotted the ball, moved it around, did a great job for us.”
Newsome scored its lone run in the fourth when Erik Dowse led off with a single, moved to second on Tyler Packanik’s sacrifice bunt, stole third, and scored on Alex Kerr’s sacrifice fly to right. Otherwise, the Wolves were stymied alternately by Herget and his defense.
On consecutive second-inning plays, Cordero — the catcher — raced to snag a high foul ball inches from his dugout, and third baseman Corbin Olmstead speared a hard shot down the line and threw out Daulton Donini by less than a step.
But Herget trumped them all when he instinctively caught Packanik’s liner back to the mound with his pitching hand. After losing his mouthpiece on his next throw, Herget fanned the next two batters to end the game.
“I walked out to the mound to make sure he was okay, but I knew what he was going to tell me,” Cuesta said. “If it was broken he was going to tell me it’s okay.”