PORT ST. LUCIE — On Jesuit's ride to the state tournament, senior pitcher Daniel Gibson has been the driver. And in Friday's Class 4A state semifinal at Digital Domain Park, his teammates made sure it was a short trip.
Gibson, the 6-foot-4 left-handed Florida recruit, started his fourth straight game of the postseason against Ponte Vedra, but the Jesuit offense made sure it was a quick day for the ace.
He faced 12 batters, and made 45 pitches, but his three innings of two-hit ball was plenty thanks to the run support he received in the Tigers' 19-0 win, a game that ended after five innings because of the 10-run mercy rule.
Jesuit (29-3) advances to today's state championship (4 p.m. vs. Archbishop McCarthy) by the largest margin of victory in a state tournament game in 13 years (Miami Westminster Christian beat Jacksonville North Florida Christian 26-0 in the 1997 Class 2A semifinals).
Now one of the bay area's proudest baseball programs is one win from claiming its first state title since 2000. The Tigers had lost their past four state tournament games dating to their last title run a decade ago, but played like seasoned postseason pros Friday.
"We're not just happy to be here," Jesuit coach Richie Warren said. "We want to come home with some hardware. I think when a lot of teams get to this point, they are happy to get to the festivities and everything that is the final four. But we came down here with a mission and we're seven innings away from accomplishing that."
Playing a Ponte Vedra team (18-14) that is just two years old and making its first state appearance, the Tigers took advantage of four Sharks errors. In the final three innings, they sent 33 batters to the plate and scored 11 runs in the fifth.
"When teams give us extra outs, that just gives us more to work with and it gives us a better opportunity to see their pitcher," shortstop Lance McCullers said. "One through nine, we all put good swings on him. When you're getting on a rally like that, no one wants to get an out. No one wants to be the final out."
Tigers senior first baseman Chris Pagliarulo drove in five runs, while McCullers plated three. Even late-game reserves Vincent Leto and Carmelo LoSauro had two-run hits.
And a quick 8-0 Jesuit lead after 3½ innings allowed Warren to pull Gibson and possibly save him for today (Willi Martin yielded just one hit in two relief innings). In starting the past four postseason games, Gibson had allowed just 13 hits in 211/3 innings and has a 0.65 ERA.
"The whole time with us, every game, when you're best is available you throw him," Warren said.
"And Daniel has been our guy all year."