The state semifinals might be the last place you would expect to find a team that just a week earlier was giving an eight-run cushion to a pitcher selected as one of the nation’s 36 high school baseball prospects to play in the 2013 Under Armour Game in Chicago’s Wrigley Field this August.
But that’s exactly what the Florida Christian baseball team faced when it came up to bat in the bottom of the second of the Region 4-3A final on May 11 against Coral Springs Christian and junior ace Touki Toussaint.
Down 8-0, left fielder Chris Gandara hit a three-run home run and designated hitter Michael Fernandez a three-run double as the Patriots rallied for a 10-run inning that would eventually propel them through regionals and into states, where they will face Melbourne Central Catholic in the semifinal round at 1 p.m. Monday at JetBlue Park in Ft. Myers.
“Just to be down eight with Toussaint on the mound, I’d be lying to you if I said doubt wasn’t creeping in.
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“But we get a walk, we get a hit in that inning, we start to chip away,” said Florida Christian coach Chris Brigman, who is in his first year as head coach of the varsity team after getting his start with the school 11 years ago coaching the middle school players.
“Then Gandara hit the big three-run home run, and it just went from there.
“It was probably the most incredible baseball game I’ve ever been a part of.”
The eight-run deficit and eventual comeback was only a microcosm of the Patriots’ season thus far. The greatest adversity Florida Christian (18-12) has had to deal with was the eight-game losing streak in the middle of the season.
After a 10-3 start, the Patriots were invited to the National High School Invitational in Cary, N.C., a 16-team tournament over spring break.
They lost all four games on the trip, and then returned home to drop consecutive games against Gulliver, Coral Gables, Summit Christian and Hialeah.
Brigman’s squad straightened things out in time for the postseason.
“I don’t ever remember being part of a team that had lost eight in a row,” Brigman says.
“Then the last week of the season we got it turned around, and then into districts and the rest is history.
“I think [the players] just bought in, and then as evident in that game against Coral Springs Christian, they just refused to give in and we just continued to work and practice and just kept preaching to them to believe in our system that’s been here for all these years.”
Now the Patriots find themselves in their first state semifinal in seven years after having some close calls in the past.
“We were so close a year ago in that 4-3 loss to American Heritage-Delray and that was really the motivation through the summer and through the fall,” Brigman said.
The Patriots will throw their best at Melbourne Central Catholic. Senior ace Chris Pelaez, a Louisiana State University recruit who has been with Florida Christian since he was in sixth grade, will be on the hill.
Pelaez throws an 85-87 mph fastball, and his out pitch is a breaking ball in the high 60s, low 70s.
Offensively, Florida Christian hopes to have its first two hitters, Mike Tosar and Ruben Someillan, set the table for the big boppers — Jack Diaz, Erik Montero, Zach San Roman and Fernandez, who hit a grand slam in a 7-4 regional-semifinal win against district rival Westminster Christian.