By Walter Villa
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – The eight-day Florida state tournament got off to a dramatic start Thursday as the No. 1 team in the nation got beat, a potential first-round prospect was brilliant but failed to get the win and another pitching star ran out of gas.
No. 1 Jesuit High (Tampa) was defeated, 3-0, by Plantation's American Heritage High—currently ranked 14th—in eight innings. Jesuit star Lance McCullers took a no-decision against the Patriots.
McCullers, who threw 138 pitches in his previous start last Friday, was held to just 93 in six shutout innings against Heritage. He allowed five hits and three walks and struck out nine. He hit one batter and lowered his miniscule ERA, which was 0.11 before the game.
Two innings after McCullers exited the game, American Heritage’s ninth-place hitter, Brandon Diaz, virtually ended it. He hit a three-run homer in the top of the eighth off of lefthander John Kilichowski, a Vanderbilt recruit.
But even though McCullers was not in the game when it was decided, he was the talk of the postgame press conference.
“I was expecting a little better,” Diaz said. “(Heritage Coach Bruce Aven) has been saying that he didn’t believe McCullers was 97-98 (mph) like everyone was saying. He believes that he can hit that but not be consistent (at that velocity).”
After the first inning, Diaz said his coach told the team that McCullers was throwing 93-94 – not the upper 90s.
“We were hitting him,” Diaz said. “I think eventually we would’ve scored a run off of him.”
Aven, though, tried to soften his players’ brash talk.
“We’re not trying to say that McCullers was overhyped,” Aven said. “We’re just confident in what we can do.”
At this point, no one would blame Jesuit for lacking confidence against South Florida teams. Its only other loss this season was to Miami's Gulliver Prep, also by a 3-0 score. And the past two years, Jesuit was knocked out at state by Archbishop McCarthy (Southwest Ranches).
On Thursday, it was righthander Shaun Anderson who shut down Jesuit. He pitched seven shutout innings, striking out eight and allowing only one hit, one walk and two hit-by-pitches.
“Everybody in their lineup got a fastball from Shaun,” Aven said. “Did they do anything with it? That’s their hitters’ jobs.”
Anderson said he didn’t try to overpower Jesuit.
“I wasn’t trying to be Lance McCullers and throw 100 mph or whatever,” said Anderson, who normally throws in the range of 87 to 89. “I was just throwing what I know how to throw.”
Jesuit coach Richie Warren and his players took the defeat hard, as to be expected.
Kilichowski deserves special credit for coming to the press conference and facing reporters, saying words such as “I made a mistake” and “I’m sorry.”
McCullers and Warren expressed faith in Kilichowski, but it didn’t appear to make him feel any better.
“This is eating me up inside,” Kilichowski said. “It’s the worst thing I’ve ever gone through in baseball.”
In the last game of Thursday’s session, No. 13 Archbishop McCarthy defeated Lakewood Ranch, 6-4. McCarthy’s Nick Travieso, who is projected to be drafted before the second round, got the win but admitted that he tired in the seventh.
When the inning opened, McCarthy led comfortably, 6-1. Travieso got the the leadoff batter but then allowed a walk, a single and a run-scoring double before he was removed from the game right at 100 pitches.
Illinois recruit Ryan Castellanos got one out but left with the bases loaded and a 6-4 score.
Finally, Florida State recruit Andre Martinez, a senior lefty who owns the McCarthy wins record at 35-6, came in and got the only batter he faced for the save.
Travieso struck out six in 6 1/3 innings but allowed five hits, two walks and four runs. Martinez, despite throwing in relief, will start Friday’s state final.
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