TAMPA — The result has been the same, but the route the Jesuit baseball team has taken to today’s Class 5A state semifinal has been circuitous.
The game against Sunlake — at 4 p.m. at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers — marks the fifth consecutive appearance in the semifinals for Jesuit (25-6), which seeks a fourth state crown.
Getting to this point has not been easy for the Tigers. A midseason discipline issue led to nine players being suspended for the season and a group of untested youngsters being promoted from junior varsity.
The results have been impressive. Jesuit closed the season with an 11-3 run as the holdovers and newcomers found ways to win while still coming together as a team.
“This team is pretty special. We’ve had a lot of problems before and we’ve come together as a team (quickly),” junior pitcher Ronnie Ramirez said. “And after we’ve gone through all of that, it makes me feel like something special is going to happen for us this year.”
Perennially a nationally ranked team, Jesuit is ranked just 47th in the state by MaxPreps.com. However, the Tigers have been sparked by leadership from the remaining seniors and a strong coaching staff.
Senior Ryan McCullers has been a steady contributor. The Middle Tennessee signee has hit .366 with 19 RBIs while handling the catching duties.
“You don’t have to look much further than Ryan McCullers for a leader,” coach Richie Warren said. “He’s been a mainstay in the middle of our lineup for the past few years, and he’s the top of that lead-by-example list for us for the last couple of months.”
The offense also has been led by first baseman and Ave Maria commit Danny Lastra (.333, 14 runs, 14 RBIs), Kennie Taylor (.348, 29 runs, 24 RBIs) and Nick Ortega (23 runs).
On the mound, University of Tampa commit Kasey Radke is 7-1, Ramirez has 31 strikeouts in 29 innings and Joe Epstein has provided depth from the bullpen.
As for the players moved up from JV, speedy Steven Lugo has been inserted into the top of the lineup and has averaged a run scored per game, and hard-throwing left-hander Michael Sandborn is 4-0.
“We’ve meshed together really well over the couple of months that we’ve had,” Taylor said. “The guys that have been called up have really done a great job in the role they were put into.”
“I don’t think anybody, coaches or players, is really talking about the past anymore,” Warren said. “Everyone is just excited about the opportunity that is before us.”