There were plenty of white knuckle moments. But in the end, Cardinal Gibbons head baseball coach Jason Hamilton’s words rang true again.
Before the game he said “this is a special group of kids because they don’t think they’re going to win, they know they’re going to win.”
That’s just what the Chiefs did once again on Wednesday afternoon as they overcame two major jams in the last two innings to edge Orlando Bishop Moore 4-3 in a Class 5A state semifinal at CenturyLink Sports Complex.
Gibbons (23-7), making only its third ever appearance in the state final four and first since 1992, now advances to the 5A state championship game on Thursday at 4 p.m. The Chiefs will look to win the program’s second state title (1987 was the other) when they take on Melbourne Central Catholic, a 2-0 winner over Live Oak Suwanee in the morning semifinal.
“As a coach, it’s a great feeling knowing you have a team that doesn’t think they’re going to win but knows they’re going to win,” Hamilton reiterated again following the game. “It’s not cockiness or anything like that, just confidence in the way they’ve been playing the last few months and a tribute to them and the work they’re putting in at practice.”
It’s a good thing Hamilton and his players had that confidence because, after the Chiefs snapped a 2-2 tie with two unearned runs in the bottom of the fifth, Bishop Moore turned up the heat over the last two innings.
The Hornets (22-8), who wound up outhitting Gibbons 10-7, loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth and had runners on the corners with only one out in the seventh. Each time, Keanu Buerosse, who relieved starter and University of Florida commit Tim Manning after he hit BM’s Sonny Rao to lead off that sixth inning, came up huge.
When Buerosse gave up a base hit to right and infield bunt single, he was in his bases loaded, no-out pickle.
Then came the pitcher’s best friend, an infield grounder off the bat of Kyle Mock that turned in to an easy 4-6-3 double play. A run scored on the play but when Buerosse got Fabian Escalante to line out to center in the next at-bat, the Chiefs still had the lead and had dodged a major bullet.
A one-out walk followed by a base hit to right by Bishop Moore’s Nick Spitulski in the seventh put Buerosse up against the wall again. But he didn’t flinch, striking out Rao and Dylan Brazil, getting the latter to swing at an eye-high 3-2 fast ball, to end the game.
“Yeah, there was a lot of pressure on me at that moment,” said Buerosse. “I just had to try and deal with it and handle it. You just block all of that out, keep your composure and just concentrate on what you have to do. I had thrown him (Brazil) a high fast ball earlier in the count and he bit on it so I thought I had him set up for that and it obviously worked out.”
Bishop Moore jumped on Manning right out of the gate when McGuire Holbrook hit a monster smash over the left-field fence for a solo home run in the first inning. The Chiefs quickly evened the contest in the bottom of the inning on a Trevor Cole RBI double and took a 2-1 lead in the second when Logan Puente scored from third on a one-out high chopper groundout to shortstop by Mike Higgins.
After Bishop Moore came right back and tied it with a run in the third, the game remained scoreless into the last of the fifth.
That’s when Gibbons scored the decisive two runs. After Felix Torres led off with a walk and was sacrifice bunted down to second, he scored on a Cole base hit to right but only after Escalante, the BM right fielder, bobbled the ball.
With two on and two outs, it appeared the inning was over when Kyle Kuramoto hit a soft grounder to second. But Hornets second baseman Kyle Mock’s throw to first got away scoring what turned out to be the winning run.
“I think everything started to change for us after they walked us off in the ninth inning a few months ago,” Cole said, referring to Bishop Moore’s 6-5 extra inning win over Gibbons during the regular season. “We left that game thinking we might see them again and wouldn’t let it happen again and we didn’t. We really are going into every game thinking we’re going to win and now we have to do it one more time (Thursday) tomorrow.”