The Cardinal Gibbons baseball program’s 27-year drought came to an end on Wednesday night.
The Chiefs, on the strength of a solid pitching performance by Keanu Buerosse, good defense and timely hitting, traveled to a place where it’s tough to win, Monsignor Pace High School, and knocked off the defending state champion Spartans 5-1 in Region 4-5A final.
With that, Gibbons advances to the state final four for the third time in program history and the first time since 1992. The Chiefs (22-7), who did not win a state title in either of the their final four trips (1987, 92) will take on Orlando Bishop Moore in a 5A state semifinal at CenturyLink Sports Complex in Fort Myers on May 29 at 1 p.m.
“This is a special bunch,” said Gibbons head coach Jason Hamilton, who has been running the program for the last two decades. “For the last 20 years we’ve had great teams, talented teams but when a lot of times we would run into teams like McCarthy, Pace and American Heritage and wouldn’t be able to get through. That can be a tough gauntlet. This might not be the best team we’ve had in the last 20 years but this is a team that just doesn’t know how to lose and won’t lose.
Hamilton watched Buerosse struggle early on but ultimately battled through the early troubles without allowing a run. Catcher Kevin Hirsch gave Gibbons the early lead when he homered in the top of the second.
“Pace is a great team and we knew we had a big challenge in front of us tonight to beat them on their field in such a big game,” said Buerosse who went 5 1/3 innings, giving up four hits and four walks while striking out six before reaching his pitch count limit. “But everything was working for us, pitching defense and hitting and when that happens, I’ll put this team up against anybody anywhere.”
The Chiefs added two more runs in the fourth and then seemingly iced it when Brice Montiel came through with a bases-loaded two-RBI single in the sixth.
But the Spartans (21-7) had one last run left in them when they pushed Gibbons reliever David Rossow to the limit in the last of the seventh. Pace rallied to push a run across and still had the bases loaded with one out with Matthew Mesa and Victor Mederos due up representing the tying run.
But Rossow bared down and struck them both out sending Chief players off to the mound to put their celebratory dogpile together.
“We like playing with the lead and I feel like the home run really got us energized,” said Hirsch. “Those last three outs just felt like an eternity but we fought through it. What a special night for this program. Those guys out there (pointing to the stands) there was a lot of alumni out there tonight that never got a chance to go to state either so this win was as much for them as it was for us.”