FORT MYERS -- Florida Christian pitcher Chris Pelaez sat down after Monday’s game with bag of ice strapped to his shoulder and exhaled.
Pelaez had just thrown 125 pitches hoping to keep the Patriots memorable, topsy-turvy baseball season going.
But that grueling effort wasn’t enough in a frustrating 1-0 loss to Melbourne Central Catholic in a Class 3A state semifinal at JetBlue Park.
“It’s been an up-and-down year… really a roller-coaster ride,” Pelaez said. “It showed our heart and our resilience. It was a good run.”
Pelaez’s complete-game effort came in Florida Christian’s first trip back to the state final four since 2006.
The senior LSU signee struck out seven and allowed only five hits.
But the one run he gave up in the top of the fourth proved to be the difference when John Capra hit a single that scored Cam Lierman.
Florida Christian (18-13) was stymied at the plate despite often making good contact off Central Catholic pitcher A.J. Smith. But often potential hits were taken away by solid defensive plays by Central Catholic, including the final at-bat.
Moments after catcher Zach San Roman singled to keep the game going, Michael Fernandez hit a line drive that third baseman Nick Capra quickly reacted to catch, preventing another hit and ending the game.
The Patriots also had a chance to tie the score in the fifth when Fernandez and A.J. Puigcerver singled to give Florida Christian two runners on with one out. But Smith got Kevin Roque to ground into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.
Central Catholic advanced to play Jacksonville Providence for the Class 3A championship on Tuesday at 4 p.m.
“We knew those guys were very well-disciplined and well-coached,” Florida Christian coach Chris Brigman said. “We felt our approaches at the plate were solid. But they just made every play. It was frustrating, but that’s baseball.”
Brigman, who finished his first season coaching the team, has been with the program for 11 years and took over for longtime coach Ernie Padron last summer. Following the transition, the team opened the season with a 10-3 record.
The Patriots later endured an eight-game midseason losing streak that began with a tough outing at the National High School Invitational in North Carolina.
Florida Christian bounced back with a solid playoff run, which included a district championship and two wins over rival Westminster Christian.
Pelaez’s season reflected the team’s as well.
Ailing from a muscle strain, Pelaez wasn’t truly himself on the mound until late in the season when he picked up three crucial wins.
The team also learned before coming to state that starting pitcher Andrew George would have season-ending surgery to repair a muscle tear above his rotator cuff. George had successful surgery Monday.
“Even in defeat [Monday], no one will know how much these guys accomplished this season,” Brigman said. “I’m so proud of their willingness to never give up.”
WP: A.J. Smith. LP: Chris Pelaez.