FORT MYERS — Jesuit coach Richie Warren thought everybody knew who would take the mound for the Class 5A state semifinal against Sunlake on Wednesday. But at 10:30 Tuesday night, left-hander Michael Sandborn sent his coach a text message:
"Coach, who's pitching tomorrow? Did you say anything at practice?"
The 15-year-old sophomore — who was called up from the junior varsity squad when nine Tigers were suspended for the season in March — started the district championship and final two region games, both of which were shutouts. (He got the save in the region quarterfinal.)
So Warren replied, stating the obvious:
"I said, 'No, Michael, you're pitching tomorrow. Go to sleep. I'll see you in the morning.' "
Sandborn said he was nervous taking the mound at JetBlue Park, but he didn't look it. Just as he has throughout the postseason, the left-hander dominated, giving up two hits and striking out eight as he led Jesuit to a 3-0 win against the Seahawks. The Tigers face Green Cove Springs Clay (23-7) today (4 p.m. BHSN), seeking their first title since 2000.
Sandborn outdueled David Castillo, the Seahawks' winning pitcher in all three region games. Castillo said he didn't have his best stuff. But he wasn't helped by some early mistakes by the Seahawks, who made their first state semifinal appearance.
Because Sandborn started all three region games, Sunlake coach Dick Rohrberg said he expected to see him on the mound. The Seahawks also faced a tough lefty in their region final against Citra North Marion and adjusted well, winning 6-3.
But against Sandborn, Sunlake didn't.
"His curveball was pretty good," Castillo said. "He had me looking kind of stupid out there. He pitched a heck of a game."
Jesuit (26-6) didn't score its first earned run until the top of the seventh, on a double from Nick Ortega. It scored its other two on a wild pitch in the first and throwing error in the second. Castillo allowed only five hits, but the Seahawks committed four errors.
Sunlake (20-10) had just two hits — one in the second and another in the third — and had only two runners reach scoring position. And as Jesuit's grasp on the game grew tighter, Sandborn appeared only stronger, striking out the side in the seventh to end the game.
"I couldn't think of a better way to end it," said Sandborn, who came into the game with a 0.85 ERA. "I tried to regroup in that last inning, finish strong."
After Sandborn threw his final strike, Jesuit's reaction was muted. The Tigers were on their way to their third state final over the past five years. But it wasn't time to celebrate. Not yet.
"There's a reason we don't dog pile after district championships, after regional championships, after (state semifinals)," Warren said. "We like to save that for the sweet one, and we haven't had a chance to experience that in a long time."