Tigers think small (ball) to win Saladino semifinal

Tigers senior Wes Mendes singled in the game winner as Jesuit came from behind to defeat Newsome in the Saladino Gold Division semifinals. 
updated: 1:28 am (3/16/23)

By Brandon Wright, Features Writer

TAMPA – The iconic 1999 Nike commercial famously coined the phrase Chicks Dig the Longball. And while that may be the case more often than not, a W is pretty sweet in any form.

Jesuit laid down three consecutive bunts in the seventh inning and erased a one-run deficit to rally and defeat Newsome 4-3 in a wild Saladino Tournament semifinal Wednesday night on its home field.

“We’re not really known for playing small ball,” Tigers coach Miguel Menedez said with a wry smile.

And for good reason. The Jesuit lineup is dotted up and down with Division I signees or commits. But with the Tigers’ bats tepid and running short on outs, Menendez dug deep into his bag of tricks.

“I don’t think in 17 years of coaching that I’ve ever called three bunts in a row like that,” Menendez said.

Trailing 3-2, Vincent DeCarlo singled and was replaced by courtesy runner Jackson Thomas, who promptly stole second on a bang-bang play.

“I’ll be honest, (Newsome catcher Braden Moon) made a really great throw and it was a lot closer than I thought it’d be,” Menedez said.

Dean Spoto then bunted down the third base line for hit, setting up first and third. With a tip of the cap to a play former Rays manager Joe Madden made famous, Menedez had DJ Pirela bunt hard to the first base side between the pitcher and first baseman into no-man’s land for another hit, allowing Thomas to tie the game at 3.

“Yep, I totally stole that from the Rays and (Pirela) really handles the bat well,” Menedez said. “So, I said let’s go safety squeeze here and I told him if he gets it past the pitcher, it might be another base hit.”

But the Tigers (11-0) weren’t done yet, loading the bases on another drag bunt base hit from Josh Hines. That brought to the plate Wes Mendes – arguably County’s best hitter – and he didn’t miss, smoking a liner through the drawn-in infield to touch off a wild celebration.

“I thought we were going to (bunt) again,” Mendes joked. “I knew I had a job to do. Just get it into the outfield one way or another. Especially when I got up 2-0, I knew a fastball was going to come.”

But all that drama only transpired thanks to some Newsome heroics – again.

Jesuit freshman Wilson Andersen, on in relief of a wild John Abraham after just 1 and ⅓ innings, was mowing the Wolves down and held a 2-1 lead in the top of the seventh. The Wolves (4-5) had yet to muster a hit all night but with two outs, Anthony Devito flared one into right to break up the no-no.

“I looked up on the board and saw they didn’t have a hit,” Andersen said. “But this game humbles you.”
And Evan Dempsey, who connected on a dramatic walk-off grand slam to beat Bloomingdale 6-3 Tuesday, did just that, turning on an inside fastball and depositing it over the right field wall for a 3-2 Newsome lead.

“It looked like they were going to have some of that same magic they had yesterday when (Dempsey) hit that grand slam,” Menedez said. “I kind of kicked myself for not taking Wilson out sooner or making a different pitch call, because I would have felt terrible (for Andersen) if he lost that game like that because he threw so well.”

Andersen, making his longest appearance of the year, fanned 10 in five innings of work, touching as high as 94 mph on the radar gun.

“I don’t think I was going to let coach take me out of that game,” Andersen said. “But whenever I get my name called, I’m just out there to do my best.”

Wolves’ starter Ryan Spitzer was sharp, holding a potent Tigers’ attack to four hits in five innings, striking out seven.

Jesuit will face Sickles (winners 12-3 against Alonso in the other semifinal game) in Wednesday’s Saladino Championship game from the University of Tampa at 7 p.m.

#1 Jesuit 4, Newsome 3

N 100|000|2 – |3|2|0
J  100|100|2 – |4|9|0
W – Westfall (2-0); L – Pitre
2B – Mendes, Spoto (J); HR – Dempsey (N). Records – N (4-5); J (11-0).