TAMPA — Jesuit has the dangerous batting order, the always necessary 1-2 punch in its starting rotation, the consensus No. 1 ranking in the nation — and the swagger that goes along with it.
But with perfection on the line Tuesday, the Tigers needed some help from seldom-used reliever Daryl Belluccia.
Despite a five-run deficit in the third inning, Jesuit survived a scare against rival Tampa Catholic, beating the Crusaders 12-9 — in part thanks to some clutch middle-relief work from the senior right-hander.
"I think we took their best shot early," Jesuit coach Richie Warren said. "We've learned how to win a lot of different ways when we get down early. Sometimes it's by chipping away. Sometimes we get a big inning."
Jesuit faced its largest deficit of the season when Tampa Catholic took a 7-2 lead in the third inning on Eddie Fuentes' two-run homer off Jesuit starter Willi Martin.
But the Tigers sent 11 to the plate in a seven-run fourth, highlighted by Lance McCullers' two-run double — his ninth of the season — followed by a two-run homer by Jimmy Falla that tied the game. Greg Dupell then followed with an RBI single that gave the Tigers the lead.
Belluccia — who at 5-foot-10, 240 pounds looks more like a defensive tackle than a pitcher — relieved Martin with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth with Jesuit leading 9-7. He immediately induced a popup to the catcher then struck out the next Crusader to end the threat.
"I was hoping the bats would come around so I could get in the game," said Belluccia, who entered with just 92/3 innings this season. "I'm always on call."
In the sixth, Belluccia stranded runners at first and second in the sixth against the heart of the TC order.
Chris Reinhart, one of four Jesuit batters with multiple hits (Falla, Austin Hartzler and Brian Traina were the others) then added a two-run homer to straightaway center in the sixth and McCullers hit a homer in the seventh before getting the final two outs for his third save in as many games.
TC's Shane Rowland was 2-for-2 with two walks.
The Tigers played without starting shortstop Nick Lockwood, who was on crutches with a brace on his left ankle. Lockwood suffered the injury in last week's Jesuit Easter Baseball Tournament championship game. Warren said he hopes the senior will return in time to play in the Class 5A-10 district tournament next week at Jefferson.
First, the Tigers (23-0) will head to Sarasota today with a perfect regular season on the line.