FORT MYERS — Jesuit coach Richie Warren thought everybody knew who'd be taking the mound for the Tigers' Class 5A state semifinal game against Sunlake on Wednesday. But at 10:30 Tuesday night, left-hander Michael Sandborn sent his coach a text message:
"Coach, who's pitching tomorrow? Did you say anything at practice?"
The 15-year-old sophomore — who was called up from the JV squad when nine Tigers were suspended for the season in March — had started on the mound for the district championship and all three region games, the final two of which were shutout wins for Jesuit.
So Warren replied, stating the obvious.
"I said, 'No, Michael, you're pitching tomorrow. Go to sleep. I'll see you in the morning.'"
Sandborn said he was nervous taking the mound at JetBlue Park, but he didn't look it. Just as he has throughout Jesuit's postseason run, the left-hander gave up just two hits and struck out eight as he led Jesuit to a 3-0 win against the Seahawks. The Tigers face Green Cove Springs Clay (23-7) in Thursday's championship game, where they will look for their first title since 2000.
Sandborn outdueled David Castillo, who had been the Seahawks' ace in the postseason. The winning pitcher in all three region games, Castillo said he didn't have his best stuff, but he wasn't helped by some early mistakes by the Seahawks, making their first state semifinal appearance.
Because Sandborn had pitched in all three postseason games, Sunlake coach Dick Rohrberg said he expected to see him back on the mound. The Seahawks had also faced a tough lefty in their 6-3 region final win against Citra North Marion and adjusted well.
But against Sandborn, Sunlake just couldn't seem to do that.
"His curveball was pretty good," Castillo said. "He had me looking kind of stupid out there. But he pitched a heck of a game."
Jesuit (26-6) didn't score its first earned run until the top of the seventh on an RBI double from Nick Ortega, having scored its other two on a wild pitch in the first frame and throwing error in the second. Castillo only allowed five hits.
Sunlake (20-10) had just two hits — one in the second inning and another in the third — and only had two runners reach scoring position. And as Jesuit's grasp on the game grew tighter, Sandborn appeared only stronger, striking out the side in the bottom of the seventh to put the Seahawks away for good.
"I couldn't think of a better way to end it," said Sandborn, who came into the game with a 0.85 ERA. "I tried to regroup in that last inning, finish strong, and I did that."
After Sandborn had thrown his final strike, Jesuit's reaction was muted. The Tigers were on their way to their third state championship game in the past five years. But it wasn't time to celebrate. Not yet.
"There's a reason we don't dog pile after district championships, after regional championships, after final four," Warren said. "We like to save that for the sweet one, and we haven't had a chance to experience that in a long time."