FORT MYERS -- Heartbreak could not even begin to describe what Monsignor Pace baseball players were going through in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.
Faced with the the giant task of having to unseat the nations No. 1 ranked team in undefeated Pensacola Catholic in the Class 4A state championship game at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, the Spartans almost did it.
But, with the winning run at second with one out in the last of the seventh and their two best hitters at the plate, Pace couldnt get it done.
And when Pensacola Catholics No. 9 hitter, James McGhee stepped to the plate and delivered a two-out, two-run double to left center in the top of the eighth, that proved to be the difference as the Crusaders came through with a 7-5 eighth-inning victory for not only the state title and 30-0 season, but likely a national championship as well.
The game ended close to 1 a.m. after a late start due to a long weather delay earlier in the day. Pace was trailing by three runs in the fifth only to battle back to tie it when senior left fielder Brandon Gomez launched a towering two-out, three-run homer over the left field green monster wall in the last of the fifth to make it 5-5.
Riding a wave of momentum from Gomezs blast, the Spartans then put runners on first and second with one out in the last of the seventh and, with their two best hitters in David Palenzuela and Gomez due up, a stunning upset and state title appeared to be within reach for Pace.
But thats when Crusaders pitcher Cooper Jones, a complete game winner the day before in the semifinals who entered in the fifth inning in relief, bore down and struck out both batters, getting Palenzuela swinging and Gomez looking on a 1-2 outside fast ball to send the game to extra innings.
Im just heartbroken for our kids, especially for our seniors as they really laid it all on the line out there tonight, said Pace coach Tom Duffin. To come in here and take on a team of that caliber and take them right to the brink tells you everything you need to know about this group. We had our chances tonight and just came up one inning short.
The irony of Gomezs strikeout to end the seventh was that it was he who had enjoyed such a huge offensive night with a single in the second, double off the left field wall in the third followed by his big three run blast in the fifth.
[Jones] just made a great pitch in a big moment so you have to give him credit, said Gomez. Just an outside fastball that was right where it had to be. Im still proud of what we not only got done out there tonight but what we accomplished all season. I would got to war with any of these guys over there. I love them all.
We knew they were a great team coming in but we dont back down to anyone and were not about to tonight, said senior shortstop Bryan Bermudez. Im proud of my teammates for battling the way we did.
All three Pace runs in the fifth were unearned after John Vicente reached on an error at shortstop to start the inning. When Bermudez followed with a single for first and second and no outs, Anthony De la Cruz and Palenzuela struck out and flied to center, respectively setting the table for Gomezs big shot.
Pensacola Catholic jumped right out of the gate with a run in the top of the first off Pace starter Alex Perez when, with runners at second and third and one out, Tanner Halstead singled up the middle. Perez escaped the jam a minute later when Evans Bozeman grounded into a four-six-three double play to end the inning.