High school rankings are an inexact science, so even though two highly-ranked teams match up, it doesn't always mean the game will live up to expectations. However, Miami's Gulliver Prep and Tampa's Jesuit High had an epic battle Saturday evening at Miami's Alex Rodriguez Stadium.
Jesuit came into the game ranked No. 3 with a 9-2 record while Gulliver was No. 11 at 11-2. The game had to be decided in extra innings and Gulliver prevailed 7-6 with a walk-off hit in the 10th inning.
"That was one of the best games I've ever been a part of," Gulliver head coach Javier Rodriguez said. "(Jesuit) is very good. Lance McCullers was phenomenal, everything I expected. I think one of the scouts said he topped out at 98."
Tied 5-5 after seven, Jesuit went up 6-5 in the eighth and quickly put Gulliver on the ropes with two quick outs in the bottom of the inning. The third hitter, second baseman John Ruiz, hit a 1-1 changeup back up the middle for a single. Third baseman Eric Neitzel followed with a single of his own to put runners on first and second, then catcher Chris Chinea came through with a base hit to knock in the tying run. Gulliver lefthander Ivan Pelaez started the game and went six innings before being relieved by Randy Boza. He only surrendered an unearned run in the eighth that put Jesuit up 6-5.
"He's my player of the game," Rodriguez said. "Boza came in and threw four great innings. He shut the door on them."
Pelaez allowed 11 hits in his six innings of work, surrendering five runs. He struck out three and walked none. Boza went four innings, allowing one run on two hits while walking walking one and striking out two.
Tied 6-6 in the 10th, Gulliver right fielder Henry Hernandez led off the 10th with a double over center fielder Bryce Walker's head and shortstop Adrian Marin (pictured) followed with a hit over the left fielder Pete Alonso's head to seal the Raiders' victory. McCullers started for Jesuit and went five innings, surrendering three runs on six hits. He struck out two and walked four. McCullers was pulled with around 75 pitches.
"He looked good," Jesuit head coach Richie Warren said. "That was probably the best offensive team we've faced this season and maybe the best in my five years as head coach. Lance kept them off balance for the most part. We just fell one run short."
Warren said the game had a state championship atmosphere from pregame warm-ups all the way to the end. Gulliver got on the board first with two runs in the first inning before Jesuit answered with one in the second, three in the third and one in the fourth. Up 5-3 after five, Jesuit relieved McCullers with righthander Spencer Trayner, who gave up two runs in the sixth that tied the game. Trayner took the loss pitching three innings and facing the two hitters in the 10th. He allowed four runs on six hits while walking two and striking out four.
Gulliver got plenty of offense from its entire lineup. Marin went 3-for-5 with two runs and an RBI. Both Neitzel and Chinea went 2-for-3 with two RBIs.
Jesuit was paced by Trayner and catcher Nolan Schultz. Trayner was 3-for-5 with an RBI and run scored while Schultz went 3-for-5 with two RBIs. His courtesy runner, Ricky Escobar, scored three runs.
"We put the ball in play and put pressure on them," Warren said. "We had men in scoring position and hit line drives right at guys. Unfortunately that's how things are going to pan out sometimes."
Photo: Stacy Jo Grant
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