Monsignor Pace couldn’t have asked for more from its pitching in this year’s state tournament.
But it never could get the timely hit to deliver a state championship.
One night after Chris Rodriguez threw a two-hitter, another Pace starter, Manny Rodriguez (no relation) took it a step further.
But after 8 1/3 scoreless innings, Jacksonville Bolles’ J.D. Dewane bunted Rodriguez’s 123rd pitch of the game back to the mound on a squeeze play to score Hamp Skinner in the bottom of the ninth as the Bulldogs dealt Pace a heartbreaking 1-0 walk-off loss in the Class 5A state championship game.
“You saw our kids just leave it all on the field,” Pace coach Tom Duffin said. “Unfortunately we just could never get that one big hit we needed. I did everything I could all night to try and manufacture a run but we just couldn’t get anything across.”
Four errors, and numerous squandered scoring chances, crushed Pace’s opportunity to win a seventh state championship and what would have been its first since 2006.
The Spartans (27-5) left 12 runners on base.
“All it took was one hop, one bounce and you’re a state champion instead of them,” Duffin said. “It just comes down to clutching up at the end and unfortunately we weren’t there.”
The loss snapped a 23-game winning streak for Pace (27-5), which opened the season with a 4-4 record.
Bolles, which won its seventh state championship, left seven runners on base, and had several runners thrown out on the base paths.
Pace had not made the playoffs the past two seasons following another heartbreaking extra-inning defeat to Pensacola Catholic in the state championship game in 2013.
“So proud of them, they deserved a better fate but sometimes you have to make your own destiny,” Duffin said.
The final miscue on a seemingly routine ground ball fielded by second baseman Anthony Sanabria allowed Skinner to reach second base to lead off the ninth. Austin Henson drove a ball to center field that Jonathan Reyes-Diaz tracked down and threw back to the infield before Skinner could score.
After Rodriguez struck out the next batter, Dewane bunted his first offering right back to him. Rodriguez fielded it while sliding and was unable to fire the ball to the plate in time to prevent the winning run from scoring.
“We put ourselves in a bad situation those last three innings and managed to battle out of it twice but eventually if you keep leaving yourself in those situations its going to cost you,” Duffin said.
Rodriguez, a junior lefty, struck out seven, allowed only four hits, walked three and hit two batters in a grueling effort as he escaped jams in the seventh and eighth innings to keep the game scoreless.
His command was solid throughout most of the game as Rodriguez induced an even seven ground ball outs and seven fly ball outs through the first seven innings.
Pace managed five hits Thursday – four more than it had when it beat Orlando Bishop Moore 1-0 a day earlier.
But none came during four different innings in which it had at least two runners in scoring position.
“I didn’t want to come out and still felt I had a lot left,” Rodriguez said. “I wanted to go out there and win it for my team. In the end, it didn’t go our way.”
MP 000 000 000 – 0 6 4
BOL 000 000 001 – 1 4 2
WP: Max Ferguson (2-0). LP: Manny Rodriguez (4-1).