TAMPA — The bleachers surrounding home plate were filled with fans, the fences lined with late arrivals.
A perfect April night provided the backdrop for arguably the most anticipated rematch of the season: the nation's top team in Jesuit visiting Class 5A, District 10 rival Plant.
When it was over Friday the Tigers gathered in rightfield and celebrated the 5-4 win and a school-record 18-0 start.
These Tigers surpassed the 2003 team, which began the season 17-0.
"I went back two years ago and checked," coach Richie Warren said. "I just like Jesuit baseball history. Went back through all the record books and started checking. These guys are having a pretty special year right now."
Warren stood beside former Jesuit coach John Crumbley, who is credited with constructing the powerhouse program. And Crumbley, who said he never misses a game, seemed proud to see one of his records fall.
"This was our goal when the season started," senior Jimmy Falla said of 18-0. "This team, everyone has bought into it and we just want to keep winning."
The Tigers, who secured the top seed for the district tournament, entered Friday's game ranked No. 1 in the nation in a pair of polls and backed it up with early offense and clutch pitching down the stretch.
The Tigers scored five runs in the first two innings capped by a two-run home run to left-centerfield by Falla, his fourth of the season. His shot gave the Tigers a 5-2 lead. Leadoff batter Nick Lockwood reached base and scored on his first two at-bats. Joe Hudson and Lance McCullers also crossed home plate for Jesuit.
Plant proved capable of matching the Tigers in the first inning after designated hitter Joe Hudek knocked a single to rightfield, scoring two runs to tie the game after an inning.
The Panthers (12-4) scored another run in the third inning when Steve Gonzales crossed home on a balk by Tigers pitcher Daniel Gibson.
But Gibson settled down to retire 12 of the final 14 batters. He finished with seven strikeouts, five hits and five walks before being replaced by McCullers in the seventh.
Plant loaded the bases and Graham Ramos scored on an infield error to cut the deficit to 5-4.
But McCullers retired the final two batters to earn the save, including the final out for one of his two strikeouts.
Tampa Catholic 7, CCC 4: Tampa Catholic rallied with four runs in the top of the seventh to win the championship game of the Dunedin Spring Invitational.
In the top of the seventh, Tampa Catholic's Brandon Mendoza doubled and Hank McCloud and J.D. Diaz each walked to load the bases. Dominic Millan followed with a two-run single. Two more runs scored on a throwing error.