FORT MYERS — Sickles senior Caden McDonald was nearly perfect in Tuesday afternoon’s Class 6A state semifinal.
McDonald, in fact, allowed one Winter Springs hitter to reach base in his complete-game 2-0 victory.
The Winter Springs hitter, Jacob McKenzie, singled up the middle in the top of the fifth inning, a hit that admittedly annoyed McDonald because on the previous pitch he believed he threw a strike for another strikeout. But the umpire called it a ball.
“But I’m not going to let it bother me that much,” said McDonald, who ended up striking out six. “I think it’s bothering (Sickles catcher Justin Allen) more than me.”
Allen said it did annoy him, “because I think I raised up too quick on the (possible strikeout pitch and blocked the umpire’s view). I wish I could have gotten that strikeout for McDonald.”
Allen, however, finished his comment with a smile because, as McDonald reminded him, “The important thing is that we played well and we won.”
Sickles (29-2) now gets a chance to win the school’s first baseball title at 2 p.m. Wednesday against Viera — a year after the Gryphons came up short in a state semifinal.
This year, Sickles coach Eric Luksis said everything feels different in all the best possible ways.
“Last year we were younger and some would say we overachieved to a certain degree and we were just happy to be here,” Luksis said. “This year is a bit more business like. This year we’ve had the motto, ‘Complete the mission.’ Our goal all season was not to only get back here but to go farther than we did last year. That’s what we’re doing.”
McDonald said Tuesday’s game “felt a lot slower” than last year’s.
“I felt like I had full control of the game,” McDonald said. “Everything felt way easier this year.”
Including at the plate. In McDonald’s first at-bat he pounded the first pitch he saw, a fastball, over the rightfield fence for a solo homer, a first-inning run that proved all the Gryphons would need to win.
“I thought he was going to throw me a curveball but the first pitch was a fastball away and I’m a rightfield hitter and I just put a good swing on it,” McDonald said of his 12th homer this season. “At first I thought it was a pop-up but it just kept carrying and then it went out.”
Sickles added an insurance run in the third inning when Allen ripped a line drive to center, scoring Connor Vance.
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Again, more than enough.
“(McDonald) was spot on,” Winter Springs coach Mike Bradley said. “He had command of four pitches and he was down in the zone when he needed to be and he was flipping that breaking ball for strikes. He was really good all game.”
As for Wednesday’s final against Viera, which defeated Doral Academy 3-0 on Tuesday, Luksis said his starting pitcher was yet to be determined.
“I feel like we’re in very good shape heading into the final,” said Luksis, who has now guided his team to 21 straight victories. “We feel good.”