It was hardly the way Monsignor Pace head coach Tom Duffin had drawn it up on the game plan.
But he’s been around long enough to know that when it comes to the baseball regional playoffs, it’s all about surviving and advancing no matter how you do it.
Hosting a Gulliver Prep team that had won just four games all season, it might’ve seemed like an easy night for the defending 5A state champions.
I turned out to be nothing of the kind.
The Spartans, after losing ace pitcher Yordani Carmona after he had thrown just 12 pitches, had to fight and claw their way past the Raiders, eventually prevailing 7-5 in a Region 4-5A quarterfinal at Pace High School.
The Spartans (20-6) advance to Saturday’s regional semifinals and will be challenged as they will travel south to Key West to take on the Conchs and what assures to be a hostile crowd at 7:30 p.m.
A University of Miami commit depending on where he gets drafted in next month’s MLB draft, Carmona suffered a right hamstring injury three weeks ago and had not seen the mound until Wednesday night.
But after striking out Gulliver leadoff batter Daniel McAuliff to start the game, Carmona motioned his coaches out to the mound three pitches in to the next batter. He had re-injured the leg and was done.
“He spent three weeks rehabbing and had been cleared by the doctors,” said Duffin. “He was out this week on the mound working and said everything felt fine. Next thing you know, he’s calling us out to the mound and suddenly me and Chuck (pitching coach Chuck Lyman) had to come up with a plan for our pitching staff.”
So it then became a “pitch-by-committee” night the rest of the evening for Pace (20-6), which got off to a rocky start. Albert Hernandez came in for Carmona and walked two Gulliver batters, hit another and threw one away on a pickoff attempt at first as the Raiders (4-16) jumped out to a 2-0 lead.
Hernandez made up for it in the bottom of the inning when he hit a towering two-out, two-run tape measure homer over the left field fence tying the game.
Hernandez was then pulled in the top of he third for Luis Gonzalez, who yielded a run as Gulliver re-took the lead before the Spartans went long ball again in the bottom of the inning. That when left fielder Robert Moya blasted a two-out, two run shot over the left center field fence to give Pace the lead for good at 4-3.
“I got a fast ball out over the plate and was just looking to punch it somewhere to get the runner in,” said Moya. “But I caught all of it and away it went.”
In an effort to keep pitchers under the necessary pitch count in order to have them available for Saturday, Duffin and Lyman took a chance and pulled each pitcher before going over the limit.
After finishing the third, Gonzalez pitched the fourth, Victor Mederos the fifth and Nick Fraginals the last two innings.
Pace added three more runs in the fourth to build the lead to 7-3 and it was a good thing as Gulliver rallied for two runs in the final inning and had the tying run at first when Fraginals recorded the final out.
“We definitely rolled the dice keeping our pitchers under the count because at the same time you have to make sure you win the game just to see the next round,” said Duffin. “But we had confidence in our staff they could get the job done and that our offense would generate enough runs and it all worked out.”
As far as the status of Carmona? Duffin wouldn’t speculate but the general feeling following the game is that he likely will not see the mound again this season and that if Pace is to repeat as state champions, it will have to be without their ace on the mound.