DUNEDIN — He looked tired at times.
Sometimes wild. Other times vulnerable.
But you can say this about Jesuit lefty Daniel Gibson: that just might be when he's at his best.
Working his way in and out of trouble, Gibson's pitching and an offense sparked by the return of injured leader Nick Lockwood was enough to get Jesuit back to winning as they beat defending Class 5A state champion Dunedin 6-3 Tuesday night at the Englebert Complex to set up another showdown with district rival Plant.
The Tigers (26-2) were ranked No. 1 in the country for much of the season, but had dropped two of their past four games — and squeaked by teams with losing records in both wins — coming into the region playoffs.
But they wasted little time righting themselves, scoring four runs — three on two-out base hits — in the top of the first inning, then Gibson did the rest.
He struck out the leadoff batter in four of the 6.2 innings he pitched, and stranded six to pick up his ninth win this season.
Though his two-seam fastball was his best pitch and produced a number of high choppers for outs, he was clutch with the strikeouts when he needed them.
He struck out Dunedin's most dangerous hitter, Casey Turgeon, with the bases loaded to end the fourth after Dunedin got within 5-2, then struck out the side in the sixth inning despite allowing two singles.
"It definitely helped to get those four runs in the first inning," Gibson said. "The key was having Lockwood back at the top of the lineup."
Lockwood, who has been out with a badly sprained ankle, was hit by a pitch to start the game and scored on Joe Hudson's grounder to make it 1-0. With two outs, Jesuit came up with three straight RBI hits — a double by Jimmy Falla and singles by Lance McCullers and Joey Spack — to put the Falcons (21-7) in a hole they couldn't fly out of.
Jesuit's 5-9 hitters went 4-for-9 with three runs scored and four RBI.
A double by Dunedin's Ben Emery — one of only two senior starters for a Dunedin team that lost eight of nine starters from last year's state championship team — made it 6-3 in the seventh and brought up Alex Libby with a chance to tie with a homer, but McCullers, a freshman, came in and struck him out for his sixth save.