By Alexis Brudnicki
Ivan Pelaez was a man on a mission Saturday night.
The Gulliver Prep (Pinecrest, Fla.) lefthander was left unsatisfied after last year’s extra-inning affair against Jesuit High (Tampa), and came back with a vengeance. Though Pelaez’s school, ranked 22nd in the latest Baseball America High School Top 25, came out on top in the March matchup last season, the lefty allowed 11 Tiger hits, and came back more prepared the second time around.
“This year I focused,” Pelaez said. “I studied a lot of what they did last year. Last year, it was my first game back coming off (an ankle stress fracture) injury, so that played a big part. But this year, I was ready to go, I was focused, and I did my job.”
The 17-year-old threw a complete-game, two-hit shutout, cruising through his seven innings of work, striking out six and walking none in a 3-0 victory. Even Gulliver head coach Javy Rodriguez was impressed enough to let Pelaez call the shots in the late innings.
“The plan was for him to throw about four or five innings and then bring in somebody else,” Rodriguez said. “But his pitch count was so low that he could finish the game, and he did. I went to go see him, to talk to him after the sixth inning, and he told me, ‘Don’t even talk to me, I’m finishing’. I said, ‘OK.’”
Rodriguez was especially amazed by the drive and focus that the young lefty had to come back and perform better against No. 3 Jesuit this year, not just taking the first win in stride.
“Pelaez threw outstanding,” Rodriguez added. “When you’ve got a guy throwing a two-hitter against a team like this, you know he did a great job because that’s a very, very, very good team. They got him for 11 hits last year, which is amazing to me. And this year he came back and threw a complete-game shutout, two-hitter.”
Richie Warren, head coach of Jesuit High, thought his team fared well against the southpaw, but just couldn’t make anything happen.
“We swung the bat pretty well tonight I thought,” Warren said. “We had competitive at-bats, but we didn’t have competitive results. We had nine flyouts and six strikeouts. And when 15 of 21 outs are not competitive, that’s not going to win you a game against a good club.”
Notching one of the hits against Pelaez was Lance McCullers. Though McCullers didn’t take the mound for his school, the crowd was still abuzz in his presence.
“See that kid in left field,” one Miami spectator said. “He throws more than 95 miles an hour.”
Not only did McCullers notch the only extra-base hit against Gulliver’s tough lefty, but in his first game in left field, he made an amazing diving catch, running back and impossibly snagging the ball, just to get up and turn a double play.
“He’s a great athlete,” Warren said of his newfound left fielder. “With him pitching so much as he is right now, we’re trying to find different ways to save his arm and playing the outfield is (an option). And he’s a true team player. He probably doesn’t (want to play outfield), but he’s the one that comes to me and says, ‘I can play.’”
Gulliver’s offense was led by catcher Chris Chinea, who launched a two-run shot out of Paul Straub Field at Hyer Family Park and over the bleachers into the adjacent football field. That gave the Raiders a three-run advantage after scoring their first run on an error.
“Chinea’s been hitting all year,” Rodriguez said. “He’s a guy that’s been hitting for four years, and he’s been starting for me for four years. He’s a great player, and he’s an outstanding hitter. I believe he’s one of the best hitters in the country.”
The Louisiana State commit went 2-for-3 on the night, also grabbing a double in the first inning of the game.
Righthander Conor O’Brien made the start for Jesuit and completed 4 1/3 innings, allowing three unearned runs on seven hits with four strikeouts and a walk. He was taken out of the game after 60 pitches.
John Kilichowski came on in relief of O’Brien. The left-hander threw 2 2/3 innings, striking out two batters.
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