FORT MYERS — At 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jesuit High sophomore Michael Sandborn texted Tigers baseball coach Richie Warren with a question: “Who’s starting tomorrow?”
The Tigers’ eighth-year skipper was keeping things close to the vest with his team, but for Warren it was an easy decision to tab Sandborn, who had tossed a pair of shutouts in Jesuit’s last two region wins, to take the mound as his team faced Sunlake in the Class 5A state semifinals.
Five days shy of his 16th birthday, Sandborn dominated as the Tigers advanced to the final by besting the Seahawks 3-0 at jetBlue Park.
“Not a lot of 15-year-old Tigers have gotten the ball in the first game of a final four,” Warren said. “He might be the first in the history of our program to do that, so a lot can be said for him.”
Jesuit (24-6) will be in search of the program’s fourth state title, while early errors ended the first final four appearance for Sunlake (20-10).
The Tigers took the lead in the first inning as Steven Lugo walked and moved around on an error before scoring on a passed ball.
Jesuit scored again in the next inning as Ronnie Ramirez delivered a leadoff single and scored on a ground ball error.
Nick Ortega doubled in the Tigers’ final run in the seventh.
While the offense scratched out enough support, Sandborn cruised by holding the Seahawks to just two hits. He struck out eight to improve to 5-0 in a game that took less than two hours.
“I usually like to work fast. I step out on the mound, take the ball and just throw it,” Sandborn said. “I remember looking at the scoreboard for the first time and it said top of the fifth and it felt like two or three (innings).”
Sandborn was quick to credit his batterymate, senior Ryan McCullers, for his rhythm.
“Ryan has really helped me along the way,” Sandborn said. “He’s really the unsung hero and has always helped me every game.”
The Tigers’ catcher, who is making his third trip to the championship series as a starter, had a double, blocked a pair of balls in the dirt and stalled a Seahawks rally by throwing out a runner trying to steal second.
“You always want to get to a final,” McCullers said. “It’s a little sweeter too, knowing that we’ve come this far and have a chance to play for a championship (today).”
The Tigers, who last won a state championship in 2000, took a different path in reaching their fifth straight final four after nine varsity players were suspended at midseason.
Warren, who like Sandborn led the Tigers to a state championship game by pitching to a win in the semifinal, said the team’s expectations never changed despite the turmoil.
“(The team) didn’t allow anything they couldn’t control affect the way they practiced or played every day,” Warren said.
Sunlake finishes its best season is school history behind the arm of senior David Castillo, who fell to 8-4 after allowing three runs (one earned) in the loss.
Jesuit will face Green Cove Springs Clay in today’s final at 4 p.m. after the Blue Devils topped Rockledge 3-0 in Wednesday’s other semifinal.