Mendes settles in as Jesuit’s offense ignites

Jesuit junior Jake Kulikowski celebrates his inside-the-park home run in Thursday’s Class 5A-Region 2 semifinal win against Seminole. 

By Mike Camunas
Creative Director

For our full photo gallery from tonight’s game click here.

TAMPA — Jesuit looked like itself for four and a half innings.

Sure, they handed Seminole a 14-2 blowout in the Class 5A regional semifinal at Hyer Family Park on Thursday evening. And, yes, it was a mercy rule game. But the Tigers looked like a different story out the gate.

“Honestly, and I told him, I thought he was a little nervous,” said Tigers coach Miguel Menendez of his junior southpaw starter, Wes Mendes. “I told him to just go play and he finally settled in and then he looked like his normal self.”

Indeed, the Jesuit (21-8) hurler was certainly wild with his pitches, and struggled to get a third out in the top of the first inning of his first postseason start on the mound. Despite giving up two unearned runs thanks to a fly ball by Luke Carey that Jake Kulikowski misplayed for an error, allowing Gavon Summers and Braedon Cochran to score, it took Mendes time to settle in.

It wasn’t until the top of the second that, when Mendes found himself in trouble again, a nifty 6-4 double play by Jacob Lozano ended a threat by the Warhawks (17-12) and any future ones, as well.

“The double play helped,” Menendez said. “After that, it changed the momentum of the game and then we had the big inning.”

Big might be an understatement, as Jesuit would score nine runs on eight hits in the bottom of the second and, of course, never look back in this game.

In fact, the comeback started before that, as senior captain first baseman, and leadoff hitter, A.J. Nessler unloaded on the first pitch he saw off Zachary Pincince to crush his fourth homer of the year.

During the nine-run second, the Tigers batted around and throughout the game, got RBIs from eight of nine starters in the lineup. Nessler, Jack Martinez, Grant Jordan all drove in two runs a piece, as did Jake Kulikowski, whose second run of the game came courtesy of an inside-the-park homer in the third. Carter Hines, Clay Thompson and Josh Hines all drove in a run, as well, while Mendes led the way with three RBI to help his cause.

On the mound, Mendes would get on cruise control by striking out six straight in the third and fourth innings and improved to 9-1, with a 1.33 ERA.

Brooks Chamberlin would strike out both batters faced in the fifth, while John Abraham, seeing his first action last week in districts due to being injured this season, got the final out of the game via strikeout.

Now, with the Tigers hosting Hollins (21-6-1) on Monday evening, Jesuit’s coach feels they are hitting their stride at the right time.

“I told them in my eight years of being here, that (the regional quarterfinal) game was one of the best games we played, maybe in the top two or three,” Menendez said. “And the same with tonight (in the region semifinals), outside the top of the first. We didn’t panic when we got down, and that goes back to our schedule and how tough we made it and now seeing guys respond when they are faced with adversity.

“Obviously, we handled it pretty well and finally looked like ourselves out there.”

For our full photo gallery from tonight’s game click here.

Class 5A-Region 2 Semifinal 

Jesuit 14
Seminole 2 – five innings

S 200|00x|x – |2|4|1
J 191|3xx|x – |14|15|1
W – Mendes (9-1); L – Pincince (0-0)
HR – Nessler, Kulikowski (J). Records – S (17-12); J (21-8).