BRANDON — Jesuit's Garrett Sheppard swung at the first pitch he saw from Alonso pitcher Jorge Oleaga in the top of the seventh inning in Friday night's Saladino Tournament final. He hit it hard to leftfield and began sprinting around the bases. It wasn't until halfway around, when the Jesuit crowd erupted in cheers, that he realized it was a home run.
That run broke a 2-2 tie and the Tigers tacked on two more runs to defeat Alonso 5-2 for the championship. It is Jesuit's second Saladino tournament title, although the Tigers don't play in the tournament routinely.
Sheppard can be forgiven for not knowing it was a home run. In his three-year varsity career, the designated hitter had never hit one.
"Best feeling in my entire life," Sheppard said. "I honestly didn't know it was gone until I hit second base. I put my head down. Didn't watch it at all. I was trying to find it but I couldn't find it."
Jesuit (12-1) took a bit of gamble to start the game. Cristian Troncoso was called up from the junior varsity to start in the final. Pitching was thin, especially after facing Carrollwood Day earlier in the semifinals. Troncoso never pitched for the varsity and lasted two innings.
"I told him at lunch he was going to get the start," Jesuit coach Miguel Menendez said. "He was fine with it."
Alonso got to Troncoso in the first by scoring two runs. Jordan Butler walked with two outs and Jared DeSantolo followed with a triple to score Butler. A wild throw to third bounced away and DeSantolo was able to score the second run.
That was it for the Ravens. Jeff Hankanson came on in the third and promptly struck out five of the first six batters he faced. Hankanson finished the night by striking out nine and allowing only two hits.
With Hankanson in control, Jesuit started chipping away at the lead.
In the third, Sheppard was hit by a pitch to lead off. He went to second on a bunt sacrifice and third on a passed ball. McGuire Weaver then hit a fly out to center that scored Sheppard to make it 2-1.
The Tigers tied it in the fifth when Duncan Hunter led off with a double. He went to third on a Sheppard single and scored on a Mitchell Thrower bunt up the first-base line. The score stayed tied until the seventh.
That's when Sheppard hit his leadoff homer. Jesuit scored twice more on RBIs from Weaver and Alex Mocny. From there, it was all Hankanson. He got two strikeouts in the seventh, including the final out, to end the game.
"I had it in my hands and I wasn't going to let them score anymore," said Hankanson, who had lobbied Menendez to start the game. "I knew our offense was going to score some runs."