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State baseball: Jesuit victory sets up another all-Tampa Bay final

The Tigers, who top Miami Springs 7-3, will face Dunedin in the Class 6A championship on Saturday.
Jesuit sophomore BJ Graham gets greeted with much cheer after scoring the first run of a Class 6A state semifinal. (SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times)
Published May 31
Updated May 31

FORT MYERS — The Class 6A state championship will feature two teams from Tampa Bay.

Jesuit made that possible Friday afternoon with a 7-3 win over Miami Springs at Hammond Stadium. Earlier in the day, Dunedin defeated Lynn Haven Mosley 7-4.

This will be the second all-area final this week. Plant City defeated Strawberry Crest in the Class 8A final Thursday night. Saturday will also be a rematch of the 2017 state semifinal, which Jesuit won.

The Tigers are trying to win their first state title since 2014. Dunedin last won one in 2008.

Jesuit sophomore BJ Graham celebrates toward his teammates after rapping a leadoff double in the fourth inning of a Class 6A state semifinal against Miami Springs. (SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times)

“I’ve told these guys all year long that my goal was to get to this point,” Jesuit coach Miguel Menendez said. “Obviously you want to win, but I just wanted to be in this position. Now we’re in this position, so just enjoy the moment.”

It took a few innings for Jesuit (26-5) to start enjoying itself in the semifinal.

After Miami Springs stranded runners on second and third in the bottom of the third, BJ Graham led off the fourth with a double. Cole Russo singled to put runners on the corners. Henry Politz was then hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs.

Jimmy Clifford hit a deep flyball to leftfield that allowed the game’s first run to score. One out later, things really blew up for the Golden Hawks.

Ethan Valdez singled home a run for a 2-0 lead. Politz was then able to score on an errant throw to second base. Bradke Lohry added an RBI single, as did Nick Rodriguez, and just like that it was 5-0.

Four runs came with two outs.

Jesuit senior Ethan Valdez slides safely into second base as the ball sails past the Miami Springs shortstop and into centerfield. (SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times)

“The first team to settle in and relax would probably be the team that would win,” Menendez said. “In the bottom of the third, when they didn’t score and we got out of that inning, then we came back and scored five was huge. We got a bunch of big two-out hits when it looked like we may only get one.”

One inning later, Miami Springs self destructed. The Hawks allowed a Graham infield bloop to land in front of third base. An infield error then put two runners on. Politz cleared the bases with a triple to make the score 7-0.

“If I’m being completely honest, I was exhausted,” Politz said of reaching third base. “We almost had to break out the oxygen.”

In the bottom of the fifth, Miami Springs (27-5) narrowed the lead. Jesuit starter Camden Minacci, who only allowed one hit in the first four innings, loaded the bases with no outs. Minacci was replaced by Josh Mallitz after allowing two hits. He did walk five.

“I thought that execution today would mean going as long as I could and making sure the other (relievers) stayed under 30 pitches,” Minacci said. “I was a little disappointed in the four-pitch walk that I gave up because I would’ve liked to have finished that inning. But I think we executed today. It was hot and I was trying to keep my energy. But it was an awesome experience. I wouldn’t have had it turn out any other way.”

Jesuit junior Camden Minacci throws four complete innings, allowing three runs on two hits and five walks. (SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times)

Mallitz gave up a hit that scored the Hawks first run. An infield groundout and passed ball made it 7-3.

The Tigers got out of a jam in the sixth inning. Miami Springs loaded the bases with two outs, but Mallitz got a foul ball flyout to third to end the inning. That out came after Jesuit dropped another fly ball in foul territory.

“That was really big,” Mallitz said. “After the missed pop-up, all I could think about was getting the out. I had to attack the zone. I knew I had to get out of it. If they got runs then it’s a close game.”

Turner Thompson pitched the final inning.

Now comes a championship game between semi-familiar foes.

Despite being in different counties, Jesuit and Dunedin have met five times in the past eight years. Jesuit has won four of those matchups, including in the 2013 and ’17 playoffs (region semifinals and state semifinals, respectively). The last time Dunedin beat Jesuit was 8-7 in the 2011 regular season.

“They know us, we know them,” Menendez said. “It’s going to be fun."

Jesuit catcher Jimmy Clifford almost puts the squeeze on a towering foul ball behind home plate. No worries. The next hitter struck out and the Tigers won 7-3. (SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times)

State baseball

At Hammond Stadium, Fort Myers. Admission is $9 per day (advance) or $12 (day of); parking is $10.

Class 6A: Dunedin vs. Jesuit, 4 p.m. Saturday

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