BRANDON — Miguel Menendez may have been 400 miles away from Tampa during his years coaching at Key West High, but even from afar, Menendez said, he always admired the Saladino Tournament, an event he learned about while playing at the University of Tampa.
So just a month after taking the head coaching job at Jesuit in July, Menendez saw tournament organizer Tony Saladino out at a high school baseball event and began his petition to be included.
"I saw Mr. Saladino, I expressed my interest, and he was like, 'You're in,' " Menendez recalled. "For me, it's a great thrill."
It's a feeling that only escalated Thursday evening when senior right-hander Drew Martin threw a one-hitter to lead the Tigers to a 3-0 semifinal win against Strawberry Crest, giving Jesuit a spot in tonight's championship against Alonso. Jesuit hadn't played in the tournament since 2003.
In the first semifinal game of the day, Strawberry Crest (9-5) and Jesuit (9-5) started strong defensively, and it was three up, three down on both sides in the first inning.
Jesuit made its first move in the second frame when Braxton Rupp and Steven Lugo strung together back-to-back singles, but the Chargers ended the threat with a double play.
The Tigers wouldn't wait much longer, though, to follow through.
Nico Baldor led off the fourth inning with a single to leftfield, and Kennie Taylor, who came into the game with a team-leading 10 extra-base hits, followed with a double to drive him home. Designated hitter Cole Gibbs then stepped up and got his first of two RBIs of the night, reaching first on a Strawberry Crest error.
The Tigers may have waited a bit to kick off their offense, but they were strong all night defensively. Shortstop Jacob Mocny had nice grabs throughout the afternoon, and on the mound Martin retired batter after batter, striking out three in seven innings of work.
Jesuit distanced itself even more in the fifth inning when Gibbs earned his second RBI on a double to rightfield, and Martin held on to his no-hitter until the bottom of the sixth inning, when third baseman Logan Fernandez hit a two-out single. Martin struck out the next batter to end the inning.
The Tigers will be looking for their second Saladino Tournament title in tonight's championship, but Alonso (12-1) will surely try to get in their way.
The Ravens started their Thursday with a 4-0 afternoon quarterfinal win against Leto, a game that was scheduled for Wednesday but postponed because of inclement weather.
Even though it already had one game under its belt, Alonso still looked sharp from the start in its semifinal against Durant (10-3), and Kevin Nunez threw a one-hit shutout to lead the Ravens to a 3-0 victory.
Florida commit Jose Ciccarello scored the first run of the night when Andrew Abbott drew a bases-loaded walk in the third, and Ryan Mejia batted in Jordan Butler later in the inning on a sacrifice fly. The Ravens scored again in the fourth when Ciccarello had an run-scoring single to send Mike Paule home.
The undisputed star of the night, though, was Nunez who struck out five in seven innings on the mound, giving up just one single to Durant outfielder Brandon Wheat in the fifth frame.
"He's one of the better pitchers around. People don't give him credit," Alonso coach Landy Faedo said. "He gives us a solid outing every time. He gives us a chance."