PORT ST. LUCIE — It was billed as the mythical national championship, a game between what Perfect Game deemed the best teams in the country. And it was decided on one pitch.
In the top of the eighth inning Thursday, John Kilichowski, who had given up only one earned run this season, threw a fastball that was a few inches off its desired location. And the No. 9 hitter for Plantation American Heritage, Brandon Diaz, hit it into the wind and over the leftfield wall.
Three runs scored on that swing, and that was all it took to end the season of the team ESPNHS, Perfect Game and Baseball America had ranked No. 1 in the nation. Jesuit lost the Class 5A state semifinal 3-0, leaving Port St. Lucie for the third straight year without its coveted state title.
Coach Richie Warren was succinct to open his postgame news conference: “Obviously we’re disappointed.”
Jesuit (28-2) managed just one hit off American Heritage starter Shaun Anderson, a Florida commit who threw seven scoreless innings. He didn’t throw particularly hard — he said he normally hit between 87-89 mph with his fastball and could occasionally bump up to 92 — but he was able to locate his pitches effectively.
After designated hitter Joey Altieri hit a single to leftfield in the bottom of the second, the Tigers put only one more man on base against Anderson, as Vincent Miniet was hit by a pitch to lead off the third. Anderson retired the next 15 in a row.
“He throws a lot of fastballs,” Patriots coach Bruce Aven said of Anderson, a 6-foot-5, 235-pound righty. “Everybody in that lineup on the other side got a fastball to hit. Just whether they did anything with it, that’s the hitter’s job.”
“I knew I couldn’t overpower them, and I wasn’t trying to be Lance McCullers and throw fastballs 100 mph,” Anderson said, referencing his fellow Gators commit and opposing pitcher. “I was just trying to throw how I know to throw and spot location.”
McCullers, who threw a career-high 136 pitches last Friday against Lake Wales, was given the starting nod late and taxed his arm for six scoreless innings and 93 more pitches. He gave up five hits but flashed tighter command as he walked three while striking out nine.
The Patriots (27-4) said they had been tracking McCullers for months, knowing that in order to win the state title they would have to beat Jesuit. While they lacked tangible results in the runs column against McCullers, there was no dearth of confidence.
“I was expecting a little better,” said Diaz, an FIU commit who was 0-for-3 against McCullers before hitting his home run against Kilichowski. “Bruce has been telling us all year that he doesn’t believe he’s 97-98 mph. He believes that he’ll hit it, but he’s not consistent with it like everyone’s been saying.
“We got up there and (leadoff hitter) Gabby (Aurrecoechea) came back in the dugout and said, ‘It’s not as fast as you guys think.’ ”
McCullers tried to put the words to their experience.
“It’s disappointing,” McCullers said, echoing Warren. “That’s baseball, it’s a great game. It will tear your heart out, but that’s why we play it.”