TAMPA — Jesuit's early stumble in its district this season served as a wakeup call that Class 4A-9 wasn't going to be handed to one of the bay area's perennial baseball powers. But the Tigers' claw back to the top of a crowded race has been more eye-opening.
Heading into Tuesday's district contest with Steinbrenner at Hyer Family Park, four teams were within one game at the top of standings.
Steinbrenner was coming off of its biggest win of the season, by one run over Jefferson. But on Tuesday, Jesuit humbled the Warriors 4-0 to take a half-game lead in 4A-9.
"We're in a must-win situation with district games right now," said Jesuit coach Richie Warren, whose team has won 12 of its past 13 games.
Jesuit junior pitcher Lance McCullers threw five innings of two-hit ball, striking out six.
"I think we came into the season with a little bit of rite of passage and we didn't have it," McCullers said. "We're really starting to figure out that we really have to work for this. Now we're the No. 1 team in the district and we're sitting in a good spot now and we're going to finish it up."
McCullers, a top 2012 major-league draft prospect and Florida commitment, also scored three runs and hit a fifth-inning line-drive home run to right-center. After getting frozen on an inside fastball from Steinbrenner starter Chris Williams on his previous at-bat, he pounced on the same pitch, hitting it off Jesuit's new scoreboard with a thump.
"I was waiting for one pitch, one pitch only," McCullers said. "I got that pitch and I wasn't going to miss it. With a guy like that you miss that pitch and you're done."
Catcher Nolan Schultz had two hits for Jesuit (15-3, 11-2), including a single in the third to score McCullers from second. Pete Alonso plated the game's first run on a long single down the rightfield line that scored McCullers from first.
McCullers, who has gradually been working into more of a starting role after closing most of the past two seasons, was making his first start in 17 days.
Steinbrenner (12-5, 9-4) stranded six baserunners, including leaving the bases loaded in the fourth inning after McCullers issued back-to-back leadoff walks and hit a batter with two outs.
"I'm not discouraged by our game today, we just need to learn from it," said Steinbrenner coach John Crumbley, the former Jesuit coach. "We told them, we didn't deserve to win. We didn't play. We didn't take care of what we needed to take care of."