FORT MYERS - Mater Academy coach Mike DiRosa just had one thing to say to his players late Friday night after their extra inning tussle with Venice at state.
"The first thing I told these kids when we huddled up after the game was thank you," DiRosa said. "They gave every bit of effort I asked of them and I couldn’t be prouder of the way they played."
The Lions, who graduate 13 players from their roster, had just finished a two-year run in which they advanced to state twice, winning a state title in their first trip.
This season’s visit to jetBlue Park did not end the way Mater hoped as the Lions dropped a dramatic 11-inning Class 6A state semifinal Friday night.
Mater Academy knew what a huge obstacle - literally- Venice’s 6-foot, 9-inch senior pitcher Cole Kragel presented Friday night.
The Lions did enough to outlast the talented Virginia Tech recruit.
But in the end, Mater couldn’t make enough plays to get past Venice itself.
A wild pitch by Mater Academy junior Tyler Perez, who had an otherwise solid relief effort, decided the outcome. Venice third baseman Mitch Donofrio scored that go-ahead run on the wild pitch in the top of the 11th inning to take the lead. Indians reliever Colin Cristello retired Mater in order in the bottom half of the inning to crush the Lions’ hopes of a repeat.
Donofrio reached base to start the 11th after a close call at first in which the umpire ruled Mater first baseman Christian Cabrera took his foot off the bag when fielding the throw from shortstop Deyvid Silva. Donofrio reached third after a single by Tyler Gardner and eventually scored on the wild pitch.
The Lions (19-10) were resilient throughout the game, however, tying the score twice after falling behind by one run. And one of those comebacks came against Kragel, who retired the first 10 batters of the game before surrendering a walk in the fourth.
Mater Academy didn’t do any damage that inning. Instead, Mater finally strung a run together in the fifth. With two outs, Kragel walked catcher Joey Jimenez and then Silva recorded the Lions’ first hit of the game when he smacked a double to left center field that tied the score at 1.
"We were telling our guys to get on the dish and make it uncomfortable for him," DiRosa said. "We were finally able to get something going in those later innings."
Venice took a 2-1 lead in the top of the eighth inning on a perfectly placed bunt single by Mitch Donofrio that rolled up the third-base line and stayed fair.
Cristello couldn’t maintain control in the eighth, walking Mater designated hitter Richie Alfonso and left fielder Michael Escarra to open the inning.
After Perez failed to move the runners into scoring position with a bunt that he popped up, center fielder Danny Reyes came through by slicing a single opposite field to right to score Alfonso and tie the game. After an intentional walk to load the bases, Rodriguez had a chance to win it and drove the ball into right field. Venice right fielder Brent Killam caught it for the second out and fired a perfect throw to the plate to prevent Escarra from scoring the winning run.
Kragel pitched 6 1/3 innings, allowing only the one hit and one run and striking out five. Kragel’s night ended in the seventh after an error with one out allowed second baseman Alex Rodriguez to reach. Another error put runners on first and second. but Cristello, the designated hitter to that point in the game, struck out Silva to send the game to extra innings.
Mater starting pitcher Kevin Fuentes dueled with Kragel, lasting 7 1/3 innings and throwing 121 pitches. He allowed two runs – one earned – while striking out five and walking four. Perez pitched 3 2/3 innings, walked four and allowed three hits.
VEN 000 100 010 01 – 3 10 2
MA 000 010 010 00 – 2 3 3
WP: Colin Cristello. LP: Tyler Perez.
If everything works out for Gulliver Prep second baseman Oscar Marchena, he will play a Class 4A state semifinal on Monday, win the championship on Tuesday and attend The Herald’s All-Dade breakfast on Wednesday.
That’s a full schedule for Marchena, but the senior with a 5.11 grade-point average and a scholarship to the University of Massachusetts is accustomed to multi-tasking.
"You have to be self-disciplined," said Marchena, who wants to become an engineer, following the path of his father and his brother, who will graduate from the University of Florida in December. "But the past couple of weeks have been a ride."
That ride includes walk-off wins in the regional semifinals and regional final. Shortstop Javy Valdez, a junior committed to the Miami Hurricanes, had the game-winning hit in the 2-1 semifinal win over St. Brendan. Marchena had the walk-off hit in a 6-5 win over Calvary Christian.
Then again, close wins are nothing new for Gulliver (23-6), which is 6-4 in one-run games and 4-1 in two-run games.
More close games are possible on Monday, when Gulliver plays Fort Myers’ Bishop Verot (23-6). The other semifinal will feature Jacksonville’s Trinity Christian (20-8) vs. South Sumter (20-6).
The title game is set for Tuesday night at 7:30.
Senior Evan Kravetz, a left-hander who is 4-1 with a 1.48 ERA, is expected to start Monday for Gulliver. The 6-7, 210-pounder is drawing recruiting interest from Rice and Miami.
If the Raiders advance, they would likely throw a senior right-hander on Tuesday, either Amherst signee Davis Brown (5-0, 0.39 ERA) or St. Thomas signee Michael Gonzalez (8-0, 1.69 ERA).
Gulliver, which won its lone state title in 2004, has advanced this far for the first time since 2010, when the Raiders lost in the final to Jacksonville Bolles.