They might have to wait a few more years, but it looks like the Florida Gators might have a good one on the way.
Pitcher Andy Painter walked out to the mound on Friday night and dominated the game from the first pitch to the last as defending 4A state champion Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian defeated Florida Christian 3-1 in a Region 4-4A final at Florida Christian.
The Eagles (24-4), ranked as high as No. 8 in the nation (Baseball America) a few weeks ago before hitting a late-season slide and losing three straight, will make their fourth consecutive state final four appearance.
The Eagles will take on either the “other” Calvary Christian, from Clearwater or Orlando First Academy in a 4A state semifinal at CenturyLink Sports Complex in Fort Myers on May 24 at 7 p.m.
Just a sophomore, Painter, who checks in at 6 feet, 6 inches, has already early committed to the Gators and proved his worth on Friday. He struck out 14 Patriots batters, gave up just three hits and did not walked a batter. He struck out the side three times in the fourth, sixth and seventh to close out the game.
“I was finding a nice mix on a lot of my pitches tonight,” said Painter. “My fast ball was working early and then I started using the slider later in the game. What a great experience to be going back over to Fort Myers again and be able to able to play for another state title.”
Just three batters into the game, the Eagles got Painter an early lead when catcher and FIU commit Ben Rozenblum took the first pitch he saw from FC starter Matthew Fernandez and sent it over the left field fence.
“I know he (Fernandez) likes to attack hitters early and wasn’t necessarily looking for anything in particular,” said Rozenblum. “But he gave me a fast ball up in the zone and I turned on it and caught it.”
“Ben’s homer was big because it’s nice to walk out on the mound before you even throw your first pitch and you already have a lead,” added Painter.
After Calvary scraped another run across in the top of the third, the Patriots (20-9) touched Painter for the only run he would give up on the night in the bottom of the inning. Roylen Quevedo blooped a one-out single to left and, after advancing to second on a fielders choice ground out and scored when Robert Sotolongo doubled to left-center, the only hard hit ball off Painter all night.
The Eagles got it back to a two-run lead in the fourth when Ryan Keenan, a Vanderbilt commit, tripled to deep right center to lead off the inning. Two batters later, he came home on a perfectly executed squeeze bunt by Jacob Howard.
Fernandez, also an FIU commit, was a tough loser on Friday night as he had nearly as many strikeouts (12) as Painter.
“I couldn’t ask anything more than what Matt gave us out there tonight,” said Florida Christian head coach Chris Brigman. “He struck out 115 batters this season and it was two great pitchers out on that mound tonight. The fact is, between these two teams along with Westminster Christian and Westminster Academy, this is one really tough region so whoever makes it to Fort Myers out of this group has earned it.”