Monsignor Pace didn’t give its ace much room for error Wednesday night.
Chris Rodriguez didn’t need any.
Rodriguez, a senior, capped his career by giving up only two hits in a shutout of Orlando Bishop Moore that helped the Spartans secure a 1-0 win at jetBlue Park in a Class 5A state semifinal.
“This is state, this is the best of the best and if you don’t show what you got, you’re not going to get anywhere,” Rodriguez said. “The adrenaline was just going. It was a really close game as you can see on the scoreboard and I just live for moments like this as well as this team.”
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Monsignor Pace (27-4) won its 23rd consecutive game and advanced to the state championship game for the first time in three seasons. The Spartans will try to win their first state title since 2006, and seventh overall, when they take on Jacksonville Bolles at 7:35 p.m. Thursday.
“What a way for this kid to finish out his high school career,” Pace coach Tom Duffin said. “We couldn’t have asked for anything more out of him than what he gave us. You just give him the rock and watch him go to work. For him to be handle a stage like this tonight the way he did, it says a lot about him and the success he’s going to have on the next level.”
Rodriguez, who has signed with Jacksonville University and is projected to be drafted by the fifth round of the upcoming Major League Baseball Draft, had seven strikeouts.
Rodriguez needed only 85 pitches to blank the Hornets and help Pace’s offense, which itself managed only one hit against Bishop Moore starter Josh Bates.
“When the seventh inning comes, I’m completely locked in,” Rodriguez said. “That’s where the bulldog comes out in me and it was a matter of going out there and closing it out. Everything seemed to be there tonight but my cutter was really on.”
The Spartans’ lone run came in the top of the sixth on a hit-by-pitch, an error and a passed ball.
Bates hit Pace pinch hitter Kenny Gonzalez with a pitch to start the inning. Jonathan Reyes-Diaz laid down a bunt that Bates fielded quickly. But his throw to first was wide and bounced off first baseman Gabe Scavone’s glove, allowing pinch runner Jordan Topps to reach third and Reyes-Diaz to get to second.
After Bates struck out Bryan Diaz, and then walked Jorge Arenas intentionally to load the bases, a high fastball crossed up Bishop Moore catcher Eric Forbrick and got past him to the back stop, allowing Topps to score.
Pace appeared to add an insurance run on the next at-bat when Justin Ledesma hit a slow chopper to second. But Andres Sanchez was called for interference on the slide into second and was called out to end the inning and nullify the second run.
“I wish we could’ve gotten more runs for him to make it easier but we haven’t been much of a hitting team all year so it only figured it would come down to a pitcher’s duel like tonight,” said Duffin of his Spartans, who had a .275 team batting average during the season. “Hopefully we saved a few of our hits for tomorrow.”
Rodriguez, who was familiar with jetBlue Park from his visit in 2014 while a member of Mater Academy’s 2014 state championship team, closed things out quickly in the seventh with two more strikeouts and a fly ball out to end the game.
Pace’s lone hit came in the top of the fourth inning on a one-out single by Arenas.
Sanchez came up next and drove a ball into the gap in right center field, but Bishop Moore right fielder Rigsby Mosley made a sliding catch to potentially save a run.
SUPPORT FOR SKINNER
After the game, both teams huddled in silent prayer on the field to honor the memory of Bishop Moore senior third baseman Joe Skinner, who died of leukemia less than a month ago.
Bishop Moore fans wore shirts in his honor and a moment of silence was held pregame as well.
Skinner, 17, was a UCF signee, and had been battling the cancer since his diagnosis this past December.
"Ultimately, it’s all about life and celebrating life," Duffin said. "This is just a game out there and sure it’s a big stage, both sides have worked extremely hard to get here and want to win, but the bottom line, it’s a bigger picture.
"You have a great athlete and a terrific young man from what I understand and now he’s gone from the world and he’s in a better place but with both of our schools being Catholic schools we wanted to show our union with them saying that our prayers are out for them and his family and our hats are off to the Bishop Moore for being able to deal with that."