TAMPA — A night after receiving a reality check, the nation's top-ranked team got a gut check.
With a national No. 1 ranking floating over the Jesuit baseball team, it can sometimes feel like a dangling carrot. Other times it can feel like an anvil. And the ambiguous distinction probably felt like a little of both this week as the Tigers hosted the second annual Jesuit Easter Baseball Tournament.
"It's hard to grasp the ranking," junior pitcher Daniel Gibson said. "I think it puts extra pressure on us, but it's also something to strive for. It means that people think we're the No. 1 team."
A day after surviving eight errors in the tournament's semifinal, the Tigers escaped St. Petersburg Catholic (13-10) in Friday night's title game 6-2 to remain undefeated and hold onto their top dog status.
Senior catcher Joe Hudson called it Jesuit's toughest late-inning test since the Tigers' season opener against Tampa Catholic. And the game could have turned quickly.
Despite allowing just four hits over six innings, Gibson had to work out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth. The Jesuit left-hander walked in two runs and clung to a 3-2 lead with the bases loaded and no outs.
But Gibson found his composure in the nick of time, striking out the next batter. And following a nice play by first baseman Greg Dupell to get the force out at home, Gibson struck out the next batter to escape.
"We wanted this to be a statement game," Gibson said.
Jesuit received multiple-hit games from Dupell, Hudson, Lance McCullers and Brian Traina, accounting for all of its eight hits. And McCullers, the hard-throwing freshman right-hander, finished off the game in the seventh for the second straight night.
More than anything, however, the tournament's single-elimination format prepared the Tigers (22-0) for the do-or-die setting they will face in a week when the district tournament starts.
"We're a week away from when it really starts to count," coach Richie Warren said. "And that's when you see this as 22 practice games."
Senior shortstop Nick Lockwood left the field on crutches with an apparent left ankle injury after colliding with SPC first baseman Justin Tedder at the bag. His status for Tuesday's game at Tampa Catholic is uncertain.