TAMPA — Others might have doubted Jesuit's ability to make its 16th final four in program history after nine Tigers were suspended for the remainder of the 2013 baseball season in March.
But sophomore left-hander Michael Sandborn didn't. Not even for a second.
"This team is very strong, and we play well together," said Sandborn, one of six Tigers who moved up from the JV squad to fill the roster holes. "We can do something special. It's pretty exciting."
In Tuesday's Class 5A region final against Cape Coral, Sandborn proved that, giving up just two hits and striking out six in a complete-game 1-0 shutout to send Jesuit to its fifth straight state semifinal.
Even though Sandborn started the season on the JV squad, Jesuit (23-6) coach Richie Warren didn't have any reservations about starting his sophomore southpaw in the biggest game of the season to date.
After all, it was less than three weeks ago that Sandborn earned yet another significant win, giving up just four hits in the Tigers' district championship victory against Robinson.
"Any program in the area would love to have him as their No. 1," Warren said. "Right now, he's filling that role for us, and doing a great job. He got his innings in on JV, and I think that helped him develop into a leader down there, and he's using that stuff he learned this year right now."
Sandborn started strong, striking out the Seahawks' leadoff hitter, and it was three up, three down for Cape Coral (22-6) in the first frame. Jesuit got two on base in the bottom of the inning after a Steven Lugo single and a walk, but Ryan McCullers hit into a double play to end the inning.
Jesuit had two hits and six base runners through the first three frames, but still, the game remained scoreless.
"When you look at their numbers, and we knew their staff was great, we knew it was going to be hard to score," Warren said. "Talking to people on campus all week, we'd been saying, 'Be ready to bring your sleeping bags, this might be an all-nighter.' And it was going that way."
After Danny Lastra singled in the bottom of the fourth, Braxton Rupp walked and Adam Weekley hit a double to deep rightfield. Lastra should have scored. But the Seahawks' rightfielder made a dazzling throw to the catcher, who tagged Lastra out before reaching home.
It was a missed opportunity, but the Tigers made up for it in the very next at-bat, when Jacob Mocny hit a two-out, RBI single to drive home the winning run.
Cape Coral's defense was strong all night, before and after the lone run scored. The Seahawks turned three double plays, and the second baseman made a diving catch to end the sixth inning, stranding a Tiger at third base.
But the Seahawks' offense, thanks to a lights-out outing from Sandborn, couldn't match the defense's performance. Cape Coral had a pair of base runners — who reached on an error and a walk — in the final frame, but the Tigers worked their way out of the jam to come out on top.
Once again, the pressure was on the young Sandborn on Tuesday night. And with a state semifinal game against Sunlake looming, that'll continue.
The sophomore said he's sure his outings in high-pressure situations so far will help him when he gets to JetBlue Park in Fort Myers. But, he said, so will the Tigers behind him.
"It'll definitely be a different environment," Sandborn said. "But it feels good to work off the pressure and have the fans — the friends and family — and especially a team that's carrying me."
5A: Seahawks make history in extras
CITRA — Sunlake (20-9) advanced to its first state tournament, scoring three runs in the top of the ninth inning to tame the North Marion Colts 6-3 Tuesday night in a Class 5A region final.
Zac Howard had a sac-fly RBI that scored freshman Colby Stoltz for a 4-3 lead. Stoltz got the big inning started with a walk.
Then another freshman came up huge, as Kyle Oliver smacked an RBI single between short and third to give the Seahawks some insurance.
"I had two at-bats and two hits all year," Oliver said. "I just saw the pitch and hit it. I was excited."
Senior Ryan Talburt closed the game out by giving up zero runs and striking out one.
The Seahawks broke through in the fourth inning after leaving runners in scoring position in the first three. Senior Jesse Williams had an RBI walk with the bases loaded, and in the fifth, Howard hit a sharp RBI single up the middle for a 2-0 Seahawks' advantage. North Marion (15-14) struck back in the bottom half of the fifth when the Colts' Ryan Owens belted a two-run triple in the gap to tie the score at 2. Nico Torino had an RBI on the go-ahead run when he grounded to short with one out.
With the Seahawks in desperation mode in the seventh, senior David Castillo got on base with a single and scored the tying run on a Colts' catcher throwing error that sent the Sunlake bench into jubilation.
Castillo also pitched eight strong innings, striking out nine with only two walks.
"We've been wanting this since my sophomore year, and all these guys came together at the right time." Castillo said. "They made more mistakes, and we made them pay. I have to respect my team because they give me runs, and I have to give them a solid outing."
Said coach Dick Rohrberg: "I've been doing this for 26 years, and things have started to go right. We want to stay aggressive and we take chances, and tonight they were successful. We worked hard, and they did everything we asked, and they deserve it."
6A: Errors doom King
VENICE — King has seen a game like the one they played Tuesday night.
In the district final against Jefferson, the Lions committed six errors en route to a loss. Venice, likewise, capitalized on seven King errors and defeated the Lions 6-1 in a Class 6A region final.
"Venice just keeps so much pressure on you with the way they play," long time King coach Jim Macaluso said. "They're well coached and really got it going down here."
King (22-7) got its only run in the first inning. Donnell Taylor drew a walk, and after a fly out Bubby Terp tripled to rightfield to give the Lions a 1-0 lead.
"We talked about having something good happen early," Macaluso said. "We thought if we could get something early we could hang with these guys. It's important to score early when you're going for the upset."
King starting pitcher Tyeler Checkley kept the Indians' offense in check through the first two innings. Venice loaded the bases in the third but Checkley induced a ground out to end the threat.
The Indians tied the score in the fourth as Ryan Miller reached on an error and scored on a double by Trevor Holloway. King never had another scoring chance materialize.
The wheels came off in the fifth inning.
Venice leadoff hitter Dalton Guthrie hit a flyball that was dropped. As he ran for second, the throw skipped past the shortstop and into leftfield, allowing Guthrie to come all the way around the bases and give Venice a 2-1 lead. Venice added four runs on three hits, two hit batters, two walks and an error.
"It just got away from us right there," Macaluso said. "Our kids were trying to make plays but we kept making mistakes. They put pressure on us and we prayed under pressure."
King loses Checkley, Terp, Taylor and seven other seniors but returns a strong young nucleus that includes Ethan Thomas, Kobe Barnum and Brian Lee.
2A: Faith Warriors fall
Less than two weeks after earning the first region win in school history, Bayshore Christian's dream of making a state final four was dashed when the Faith Warriors fell at Orlando Christian Prep 3-1.
Bayshore Christian (11-5), which started right-hander David Santiago on the mound, was held scoreless through the first six frames, but the Faith Warriors pushed one across in the seventh on an Orlando Christian Prep error.
Even though his team's breakout season ended too soon, coach Corey Thomas said he's proud of his guys for the strides they made for themselves and the program.
"It definitely meant a lot, because it showed there's room for us to grow," he said. "We grew a little bit this year."
Times correspondents Nathan Cowan and Joseph Kornecki III contributed to this report.