FORT MYERS -- Monsignor Pace found itself in a scoring funk for the second consecutive year at state.
David Palenzuela ended those issues with one swing of the bat in the sixth inning Monday night.
Palenzuela’s three-run double put the Spartans ahead for good in a 5-1 comeback win over Ocala Trinity Catholic in a Class 4A state semifinal at JetBlue Park.
The Spartans (23-6-1) will try to win their first state championship since 2006 and seventh overall when they take on Pensacola Catholic, the top-ranked team in the nation by USA Today, Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m.
“Last year was heartbreaking for us losing 1-0,” said Palenzuela, a Miami-Dade College signee. “We had a bunch of seniors that came back hungry.”
With a full count, two outs and the bases loaded, Palenzuela drove a ball over Celtics center fielder Tim Sada’s head and all the way to the park’s replica Green Monster wall to clear the bases and give Pace a 4-1 edge. The blast came one pitch after a close 2-2 pitch from Trinity Catholic pitcher Jesse Lepore just missed on the outside corner.
“I felt comfortable at the plate,” Palenzuela said. “I took a fastball that I should have ripped. But I made adjustments and I swung away. I was trying to protect the plate and put it in play.”
Pace pitcher Luis Deville closed out the game pitching 1 1/3 scoreless innings following a solid effort from Jonathan Hernandez, who continually worked his way out of jams throughout his 5 2/3 innings.
“I knew my guys had my back and that they’d come through,” Hernandez said/ “We’re more experienced now as a group and we know what it takes.”
Monsignor Pace squandered chances to break open a big inning in the third, fourth and fifth innings and left eight runners on base combined.
The Spartans tied the game at 1 in the fourth when Austin Miro drew a walk with the bases loaded. But Pace could not take the lead as Leroy Garcia grounded into a fielder’s choice and pinch hitter Benji Urra struck out.
Bryan Bermudez led off the fifth with a single and reached second on a wild pitch. Two batters later David Palenzuela walked with one out. Two batters after that, De La Cruz walked to load the bases with two outs. But Andrew McCoy popped up to shallow center to end the inning.
In the third inning, Pace left runners on first and third when Lepore got Manny Pazos to ground out to second to end the inning.
Trinity Catholic got a run early scoring in the top of the second by taking advantage of an error with the bases loaded.
Sada hit a chopper to third. Pazos threw low to the plate allowing Josh Gourley to score after he collided with De La Cruz a couple feet away from home plate. Gourley, Tim Pigeon and Steven Ramsey loaded the bases on consecutive singles.
A well-executed double play limited the damage, however.
Trinity Catholic right fielder Tim Retamoza flied out to right. Designated hitter Tim Pigeon tried to score but Andrew McCoy’s throw was relayed perfectly to the plate to catcher Anthony De La Cruz, who made sure to block the plate this time by blocking Pigeon’s path.
“It was more of an emotional play than anything else,” De La Cruz said. “It showed how much we wanted it.”
In the third and fifth innings, Hernandez worked his way out of trouble as Trinity Catholic left runners in scoring position both times.
But in the sixth, Pace coach Tom Duffin removed Hernandez for senior Luis Deville with two outs and runners on second and third. Deville struck out Retamoza to end the inning and keep the game tied at 1.
“This was as good as it gets,” Duffin said. “We really battled and scrapped with a very good baseball team in the other dugout and found a way to come out on top. It wasn't just David's big hit either. We had a lot of big plays along the way including our catcher blocking the plate in the second inning to keep them from scoring another run.”
Miami Norland girls’ basketball star Nia Roberts signed with the University at Buffalo. Roberts helped lead the Vikings to three state final four appearances, earning one state championship and one state runner-up.
Gulliver first baseman Stephanie Texeira was named the Class 4A Player of the Year for Florida by the Florida Dairy Farmers Association on Monday. Texeira hit a Miami-Dade County single-season record 17 home runs this season and led the Raiders to their fourth consecutive state championship.
The association also honored two local coaches with Coach of the Year honors.
Miami Coral Reef’s Dario Rodriguez was named the Class 8A winner and Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas’ Bryan Baucom was named the Class 7A winner. Both led their teams to state titles.