TAMPA — It wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the walkoff hit that beat defending state champ Jefferson, but Jesuit will take it just as well.
The Tigers are two wins from pulling off what Jefferson did last year after routing visiting Dunnellon 10-0 in five innings to take Wednesday’s Class 6A region final. Jesuit plated five runs in the fifth, with Joe Casale’s RBI double clinching the run-rule walkoff.
“I prefer this kind. A lot calmer on my heart, not as many gray hairs,” said Jesuit coach Miguel Menendez, whose team scored in every inning.
Jesuit (25-5) received four frames of one-hit shutout work from junior Camden Minacci, now 11-1 on the season.
Menendez was concerned that with players in the middle of exams, and after the three-run rally to top Jefferson last weekend, there might also be a letdown.
“I was absolutely worried about that. I told them to enjoy it Saturday night, enjoy it Sunday, then we came here Monday and it’s the first thing we talked about,” he said. “Obviously that’s a huge moment, but we didn’t want that to define the season, we wanted it to be something that propels us to the next step.”
That would be an attempt to win Jesuit’s first state title since 2014. The 6A state semifinals are May 31 in Fort Myers.
Dunnellon (24-7) committed six errors, three in the first inning and two in the fifth to usher in the early end. Ethan Valdez made it 8-0 with a two-run single, advancing to third on a fielding error. After a walk, Nick Rodriguez flew out but a wild throw allowed Valdez to score. Then Casale drilled the double. Casale was the lone Tiger with two hits but they collected nine in all.
“We weren’t expecting to beat them that bad. But 10-0, pretty decisive,” said Minacci.
The errors helped. A pair of certain groundball outs were booted by Dunnellon infielders, and a walk to slugger Cole Russo loaded the bases for Jesuit with one out in the first. With two outs Jimmy Clifford hit a high chopper to third that may have been headed foul, but was played — and kicked 50 feet, allowing Nick Rodriguez and B.J. Graham to score.
Dunnellon threatened to get right back in it after a double, but Minacci went with a nasty slider for the second out, and after a walk, induced a pop-up to deep short. Two innings later Minacci was again able to strand a pair, after issuing a couple of walks coupled with a wild pickoff attempt putting runners on second and third. But after falling behind 3-1 he got a big strikeout, and yet another high fly to short.
“We were just trying to go middle-middle, but I was struggling getting there,” said Minacci, who struck out four. “I stepped off the mound, took my hat off and took a deep breath. Just came back, threw it over the plate and made them have to hit it.”
The fourth Dunnellon misplay gave Jesuit a 3-0 lead in the second: a wayward throw that allowed Bradke Lohry to make it all the way to third on an infield single, and score on Rodriguez’s groundout. After that Jay Frazier (.475, 37 RBI, 40 SB) hit what felt like a two-run homer off the bat, but was caught by Casale at the rightfield wall. Then another productive Jesuit groundout, Russo’s with Graham on second, set up Henry Politz to dunk in an RBI single for a 4-0 edge in the third.
Jesuit’s fifth run came after two were out, as Rodriguez singled, stole second and came around on Casale’s base hit. The hosts ended Maurice Goolsby’s night with three more hits in the fifth, Andrew Kynes’ smacked RBI double making it 6-0.
At Hammond Stadium, Fort Myers
Class 8A: Strawberry Crest vs. TBD, 4 p.m. May 29
Class 8A: Plant City vs. McArthur, 7 p.m. May 29
Class 7A: Doral Academy vs. Leto, 7 p.m. May 31
Class 6A: Jesuit vs. Miami Springs, 1 p.m. May 31
Class 4A: Calvary Christian vs. Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian, 7 p.m. May 24