FORT MYERS – A nine-year wait to get back to the state final four turned out to be a short stay for the Belen Jesuit baseball team.
The Wolverines got off to a rocky start and never recovered as they fell to Tampa Gaither 5-0 in a Class 7A state semifinal at jetBlue Park.
Gaither, which made its only other state final four appearance in 2005, will look for its first state title on Saturday when the Cowboys (19-9) take on defending champion Venice in the state title game at 12:30 p.m.
The Wolverines, who finished 19-12 and were making their first state appearance since 2007 and third in program history, stumbled right out of the gate committing two errors in the first inning. That led to Gaither scoring three unearned runs and one more two-out error in the second allowed another run to score.
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Saddled with the early four-run deficit, Belen hitters could not come close to solving Gaither pitcher Gavin Gillespie.
Gillespie allowed just four Belen batters to reach base (two hits and two walks) and retired 17 straight at one point from the second inning until giving up a two-out walk in the seventh while finishing with seven strikeouts.
“I’m not sure if it was nerves or not, sometimes it’s just baseball,” said Belen coach Jerry Albert. “You have kids that have making all the plays for the last five or six games and coming through in clutch and pressure situations so I don’t like to think that it’s nerves, just something that happened.”
Even though he hardly got any defensive support, Belen pitching ace Pablo Arevalo, who entered the game with a 6-1 record and 0.34 ERA, struggled from the start as well. Arevalo, who is headed to Barry University, gave up six hits before giving way after three and two-thirds to Albert Maury who finished things up.
“I felt the whole game I just didn’t have it,” said Arevalo. “Especially on a day like today, I really wanted to have the best possible game I could have but sometimes things just don’t go your way. I don’t even think I had a strikeout today so not the way I wanted to close things out.”
The fact that Belen was even in Fort Myers was remarkable in itself.
The Wolverines were 10-11 at the beginning of April before reeling off nine straight wins including a district title and a regional semifinal win over Pines Charter in which they were down to their last strike before tying the game and then winning it in extra innings.
“This was such a great run and a privilege and honor to be a part of it,” said Belen cleanup hitter Christian Del Castillo who turned in huge numbers this season as he entered the game with a .511 average (fourth best in the county) and .837 slugging percentage and is headed to Seton Hall. “We just kept on pushing each other and challenging each other the whole time and even though things didn’t work out in this game. Nobody ever thought (when they were 10-11) that we’d still be playing here today.”
C.J. Vazquez and Humberto Torres had the only two hits for Belen.
“It’s always frustrating to start off slow and to fall behind so early in a game this important which makes it that much tougher,” said Belen leadoff hitter Eric Wilson. “But we’ve been bouncing back all year finding ways to win games so we still felt confident we’d be able to get back in the game but sometimes it doesn’t happen. But like every game, we left it all out on the field today.”
BEL 000 000 0 – 0 2 3
GA 310 100 0 – 5 7 0
WP: Gavin Gillespie (11-) LP: Pablo Arevalo (6-2)