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.
Perez got into more trouble in the second inning when he gave a leadoff single to Greg Ciangiotto and followed with a walk to Gavin Webby. After Webby stole third, he came home one batter later on a wild pitch to make it 2-0.
The Spartans (23-7) then scored twice in the last of the second to square the game at two.
After Gomez and Anthony De la Cruz singled to open the inning and Andrew McCoy struck out, Austin Miro delivered an RBI single up the middle scoring Gomez from second and sending De la Cruz to third.
Leroy Garcia then grounded back to the pitcher who threw to second for the force out but the throw to first to complete the inning-ending double play went wide allowing De la Cruz to score from third.
The Crusaders retook the lead in the top of the third when, with two outs, Evans Bozeman launched a towering drive to left that just cleared the 37-foot green monster and went just inside the foul pole for a solo home run.
Catholic scored two more single runs in the fourth and fifth to make it 5-2 before Pace put on its big rally.
The Miami Herald will honor Miami-Dade Countys top athletes and coaches at its annual awards breakfast Wednesday morning at Jungle Island near downtown Miami.
The Heralds All-Broward Athletic Awards will be held Friday at the Signature Grand in Davie.
Both ceremonies will begin at 8:30 a.m. and check-in begins at 8 a.m. Tickets are $25 at the door.
At both events, The Herald will announce its athletes and coaches of the year in 17 sports and crown its overall athletes and coaches of the year for all sports.
The Herald will also name this years All-Sports Awards winners, honoring the top athletic programs in the county overall and in major boys and girls sports.
The Miami LaSalle baseball team had three of its players sign recently: catcher Elier Rodriguez with Barry University, Alex Garcia with St. Thomas University and Mike Matheis with Catawba College.
The Florida High School Athletic Association released its Spring Sports Academic Team Champions, and five South Florida teams scored the highest team grade-point averages for their respective classifications.
Fort Lauderdale Westminster Academys baseball team scored a 3.625 to lead the Class 3A baseball group.
Miami Ransom Everglades swept the Class 2A track and field category with its girls scoring a 3.723 and its boys a 3.688.
Miami Country Days girls water polo team scored a 3.709.
Davie University Schools boys lacrosse team scored a 3.593.
American at Dillard, 7
Hollywood Hills at Flanagan, 7
Edison at Hallandale, 7
Taravella Intrasquad game at Tamarac Park, 6:30