After playing in the giant shadow of ace pitcher Christian Scott all season, there would be no shadows on the field for Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian pitcher Skylar Gonzalez on Thursday night.
On easily the biggest night of his high school career, Gonzalez was one step short of magnificent as he fired a complete-game four-hitter to lead the Eagles team to a stunning 5-1 victory over Clearwater Calvary Christian in the Class 4A state championship game at CenturyLink Sports Complex.
Stunning because as good as the Eagles are, they were up against a team in Clearwater CC that was a defending state champion, had not lost a baseball game in two years (60 consecutive wins) and was ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today and No. 2 by Baseball America.
“Here’s a team tonight that rattled off 60 straight wins ,and I can’t tell you how hard something like that is to do so our hats off to that team, and of course what can you say about our kids and what they did out there tonight,” said Eagles head coach Alan Kunkel. “Simply remarkable. Our kids not only wanted to get back here and win another title but wanted to try and beat this team doing it, and darned if they didn’t go out and do it.”
All Gonzalez did was take a hitting lineup of a Clearwater team whose first five hitters are Division I commits to Texas, Arizona State, Florida State, Ole Miss and TCU and shut them down cold as the Eagles captured their second state title in the past three years.
“It’s really all about the support behind me,” Gonzalez said. “My teammates were there with the great defense and picking me up if I would walk somebody. It’s all about nine guys out on that field, not just one. It was about throwing strikes and getting ahead in the count early. My two-seam [fastball] was really working and the location was great. I know how much talent was in their lineup, so I knew tonight would be a big challenge.”
After his teammates got him a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, thanks to a two-out RBI double into the left-field corner by Roberto Pena, Gonzalez ran into his only trouble in the last of the third when the Warriors plated their only run. That came when, after giving up a double to Samuel Gordon, Gonzalez took an ensuing bunt by Eric Kennedy and fired wild to first base allowing Gordon to score.
But Gonzalez was absolutely unrattled and was as cool as ice the rest of the way, retiring 14 of the final 17 batter he faced while finishing with seven strikeouts.
Meanwhile, Pena came through again in the top of the fifth when he stepped up with the bases-loaded and ripped a single up the middle to score two runs breaking the 1-1 tie. The Eagles (16-16) but 27-5 on the field after having to forfeit 11 regular-season wins due to paperwork problems with three players, scored two insurance runs for Gonzalez in the top of the seventh.
“We came prepared and have been looking forward to this game all year,” said Pena. “We wanted them to win their semifinal yesterday so we could have a Calvary showdown and what can you say, every streak has to end and it feels great that we were the team to end it.”
Gonzalez watched Scott, who is on his way either to the University of Florida or the major leagues depending on where he gets drafted, pitch a complete-game gem the night before in a 3-1 semifinal win over Palm Beach Gardens Benjamin.
“I never really felt I had to play in his shadow,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve gotten to learn from Christian, from his performances, I watch him on the mound and how he handles himself, see him do things on the mound that I try and replicate so it’s really been about building off of him.”