FORT MYERS — Feeling confident and strong, Jesuit junior lefty Wes Mendes stepped into the spotlight Saturday afternoon during the Class 5A state title game and proceeded to make more history for the Tigers in a most historic year.
Mixing a 90-plus mph fastball, a nasty breaking ball and a freezing changeup, Mendes was nothing short of devastating, allowing three hits and striking out 11 in 6.2 innings of a 6-0 victory over Melbourne Eau Gallie.
Eau Gallie coach Bob Collins and Jesuit coach Miguel Menendez both said the Commodores simply “ran into a buzz saw.”
“(Mendes) was on fire,” Jesuit catcher Josh Hines said. “The changeup was just working really well. So we just kept going back to it and he just kept locating it perfectly every single time and they just couldn’t touch it. It was disgusting.”
Mendes likely would have earned the complete-game victory if not for the mandatory pitch-count limitation of 105 pitches. Junior righty Brooks Chamberlin stepped in to get the final batter to fly out of centerfielder Carter French, who played a big part in the Tigers’ overall magical athletic school year.
In the fall, French started at receiver for the football team, which won the state title with a 15-0 record. Right after that championship victory, French told Menendez, “Now we’re gonna do it in baseball.”
In between the Tigers’ football and baseball state titles, Jesuit also won a state wrestling title, giving it three team titles for the school year — a feat never before accomplished by the Tigers and one achieved by very few schools across the state. In five other school years, Jesuit has won two state team titles in different sports.
This year the baseball team again came in with high expectations (ranked high in several national polls) only to stumble out of the gate, losing three of its first seven games in a tough tournament in Georgia.
“There were a lot of ups and downs in the year but I feel like we just embraced each other,” senior first baseman AJ Nessler said. “I can’t say enough about all these guys and how they responded each and every day and came in and showed up and kept working. By the time we hit the end of April, we knew we would be in a dog fight every single game. But we were ready.”
Were they ever.
Jesuit finished the year by winning its final five games by a combined score of 51-5. The title is the baseball program’s sixth, all coming in the last 30 years (1994, 1997, 2000, 2014, 2019, 2022) and trailing only Tampa Catholic (nine) for most won by a Hillsborough County team.
On Saturday, Jesuit (24-8) showed a mix of patience (manufacturing two runs in the first inning on no hits), explosiveness (collecting all seven hits in its final three at-bats), solid defense (committed only one error), and, of course, awesome pitching.
Mendes, Menendez said, “inspires confidence.”
“I’m probably going to offend my other guys here, but I tell them all the time that I feel like any field we step on, we feel like (Mendes) is the best player on the field for either team,” said Menendez of Mendes, a Vanderbilt commit who also plays centerfield and hits cleanup. “That’s how we feel about (Mendes) and that’s the type of guy he is.”
In the championship game, Mendes pitched out of one tight spot in the fourth inning, facing a bases-loaded situation with no outs. He followed by striking out the side.
“I never really got nervous,” Mendes said. “I’m never really nervous. I’m comfortable out there on the mound. I want to be out there in those situations in big games.”