High School Sports

Patient approach sparks huge inning and propels Monsignor Pace to seventh state title

Monsignor Pace HS players rush the mound after defeating Bolles HS in the Class 5A Finals in the FHSSA Baseball State Championships in Fort Myers, Florida, June 2, 2018.
Monsignor Pace HS players rush the mound after defeating Bolles HS in the Class 5A Finals in the FHSSA Baseball State Championships in Fort Myers, Florida, June 2, 2018.

All Monsignor Pace needed was a little patience.

As Spartans’ veteran coach Tom Duffin walked nervously back and forth in the dugout, he told his players to stick to their approaches and the breakthrough would come.

After scoring on three consecutive bases loaded walks to take the lead, one big hit from pitcher Victor Mederos put Monsignor Pace comfortably ahead for good and capped an eight-run sixth inning that sealed a 10-4 victory over Jacksonville Bolles in the Class 5A state championship game at Hammond Stadium.

“I just kept telling the players to stay the course,” Duffin said. “If we do, it’s going to go our way and it finally did.”

The victory secured Monsignor Pace’s seventh state championship all-time.

But for Duffin, who finished his 23rd year at the helm of the Spartans’ program, it was a long time coming.

It was Pace’s first state title since 2006, only its second in the past 30 years and Duffin’s second as coach. Duffin, a Pace alum, played for the school’s 1985 state championship team.

It was also the first state title for the school since the boys’ basketball team brought one home in 2008.

The Spartans (24-6) avenged a heartbreaking loss in the 2016 state final to Bolles and denied the Bulldogs what would have been their first-ever three-peat.

Pace also moved into a tie with Brito and Archbishop McCarthy for the second-most state baseball titles by a school from South Florida. Westminster Christian and Key West are tied for the most statewide with 11.

“This is something these kids are never going to forget,” Duffin said. “I won it as a player. I won it as a coach and I’ve had four other teams experience heartbreak. This team will have a chance to hang a banner in our gym and that will live forever in the record book. These guys will always be state champions.”

The Spartans’ prolific lineup spent the first five innings amassing 10 hits, but left eight runners on base and only plated two runs that both scored on balks by Bolles starter Nathan Skinner.

Trailing 4-2, the Spartans loaded the bases in the sixth on a single by M.C. Sagaro, a double by Sammy Infante and when Michael Montes reached on a hit by pitch.

Bolles reliever Grant Shepherd struck out Kenny Gonzalez for the second out of the inning. But after working a full count, Roberto Moya drew a walk to force in a run. Yordani Carmona followed suit and tied the game with another free pass.

Bolles coach Mike Boswell replaced Shepherd with reliever Connor Boyer. And then he walked pinch hitter Darian Fumero, who drove in the winning run in Thursday’s semifinal win, to give Pace a 5-4 lead.

Mederos, a sophomore righty and one of nine University of Miami commits or signees for the Spartans, did the rest by belting a three-run double that broke the game open.

“We did a great job staying calm and letting the pitchers work and waiting for a pitch to hit,” Mederos said. “I couldn’t just swing at any pitch and it really helped.”

Mederos started the game and pitched 5 2/3 tough innings in the scorching plus-95 degree heat. He allowed four runs with two coming on a 411-foot blast by Hunter Barco to center that gave Bolles a 4-1 lead in the third. Mederos kept Bolles in check for the next two innings to give Pace a chance to answer.

Luis Gonzalez closed out the game tossing 1 1/3 perfect innings and striking out two.

“It wasn’t easy on the mound out there,” Mederos said. “Your body wants to give up. I know we were down, but I knew my team wasn’t going to go down.”