BRANDON – Of the many things the Saladino Tournament offers to coaches, maybe the most under-appreciated is the chance for teams that reach deep into the tournament to get a look at the future, as the number of games forces a skipper to turn to untested players in big situations.
Thursday, Jefferson coach Pop Cuesta did just that, turning to sophomore Tyler Jones to take the mound for the Dragons in the team’s semifinal against Strawberry Crest.
Jones struggled in his first inning, allowing the Chargers to take a three-run lead, but the young right-hander quickly found his footing and allowed just one more run as the Dragons sparked a comeback to top Strawberry Crest 5-4, and reach the team’s fourth straight tournament final.
“My team told me they were going to win the game for me no matter what,” Jones said. “So all I had to do was just go out there and pitch knowing they all had my back.”
Strawberry Crest started quickly, stringing together five hits as Jake Ralyea, Mark Moclair and Tyler Chancey each singled in a run in the top of the first. The Chargers added another run in the third on a Moclair sac fly, while Ralyea stymied the Dragons’ bats, holding Jefferson hitless until the fourth inning. That first Dragons hit — an RBI double from Alejandro Martinez — started things, but the inning ended as Martinez was thrown out trying to advance to third on the throw home.
The Dragons kept clawing, adding another on an error in the fifth, before plating three runs in the sixth as Jonathon Diaz sparked the rally reaching on a sac bunt that moved runners over and loaded the bases before an RBI from Jony Gonzalez, a wild pitch and an RBI sac fly from Jordan Norman gave Jefferson (9-4) all it needed.
“They’ve been doing that all year – they don’t ever quit,” Cuesta said of his team. “They just believe they can win every time they take the field, doesn’t matter what the score is they seem to come back every time they go out.”
JEFFERSON 5, STRAWBERRY CREST 4
Straw Crest 301 000 0 — 4 10 2
Jefferson 000 113 X — 5 4 1
W — Jones (1-1). L – R. Garcia (0-1). 2B – F. Garcia (S); Martinez (J). Records— S 8-4; J 9-4.
Panthers roll, 14-1
BRANDON — Plant senior Stephen Chamblee tuned up the old adage: “Hitting is contagious.”
Thursday in the Panthers’ semifinal game against Alonso, Plant put together a pair of good innings and ending things early, topping the Ravens 14-1 in five innings.
“I say hitting is contagious,” Chamblee said. “Those first two, three hits in a row get things going, and this is what happens.”
Chamblee, who pitched a complete game for the Panthers, allowed one run on four hits and struck out three.
On the offensive side, Plant (10-2) managed only one hit through the first three innings, but in the fourth it found its rhythm as Carter Leslie laid down a sacrifice bunt to push Matt Vaka across the plate, before Ryan Ellis singled in another and Kyle Tucker added a sacrifice fly. By the fifth inning, the Panthers had things going, plating 11 runs as Jake Bak led off with a single followed by an RBI double from Vaka and a two-run single from Max Wadsworth sealed it.
“I feel like as a team we bounce off each other’s hits,” Vaka, who was 2-for-3 with two RBIs, three runs and a double. “It’s like a spark plug, once it starts, the fire just keeps going.”
Alonso (12-2) managed a run in the fifth on a single from Wyatt Reid.
PLANT 14, ALONSO 1
Plant 003 (11)0 — 14 11 2
Alonso 000 01 — 1 4 2
W – Chamblee (3-0). L – Fernandez (1-1). 2B – Wadsworth, Dickens, Vaka (P); Mejia (A). Records – P 10-2, A 12-2.