Pirela books Jesuit in third-straight final four

Jesuit senior Will Burke (7) celebrates as Zane Pestalozzi slides home safely in the second inning

By Chuck Frye, Senior Staff Writer

TAMPA – Different script, same result. But for Jesuit, the author made the ending that much sweeter.

Rather than falling behind by multiple runs then surging to victory, as most of its playoff run has gone this year, the top seeded Tigers were able to jump out to a three-run lead in Monday’s Class 5A Region 3 final only to see No. 3 Parrish Community rebound and tie things up.

That was until D.J. Pirela stepped up to the plate in a pressure situation every baseball-loving youth dreams about and produced, lifting Jesuit to a 6-3 victory and its third straight trip to Fort Myers and the state final four.

Tigers senior DJ Pirela was 2-for-4 in the win, with three RBI and this run scored in the first inning.

Jack Clark’s leadoff single followed by Jacob Lozano’s sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the sixth inning got the Tigers (24-6) off to a promising start but a fly out threatened to leave the game deadlocked. As if by fate, Will Burke and Kaden Waechter – the eighth and ninth hitters in the Jesuit lineup – both drew free passes to load the bases for leadoff man Pirela.

“You couldn’t have drawn up a better situation,” Tigers head coach Miguel Menendez said. “Our hottest hitter was coming to the plate.”

The Tigers dugout congratulates Vincent DeCarlo after driving in the game’s first run.

And that hitter was hungry, having lost out on last year’s playoffs due to injury, missing the last eight games of what would turn out to be a state runner-up season for Jesuit.

“It was obvious that this was going to be a dog fight and it’s whoever wants it more,” Pirela said. “I wanted it more, it’s as simple as that. I knew the pitch I wanted, I got it, and I executed.”

Parrish Community starting pitcher Tony Guthrie struck out four in 5 2/3 innings on the mound. 

Driving a single into leftfield scored Clark and pinch runner Jackson Thomas, and when the throw to third went awry, courtesy runner Brody Smith trotted home with a huge insurance run.

“I think he’s trying to make up for lost time,” Menendez said. “It’s nice to see him have his moment as a senior in his last home game.”

“I had to slow down everything – slow down the moment, slow down the pitcher, just be within myself,” the Florida Gulf Coast commit said. “I relaxed and told myself, ‘I’m going to get this guy’.”

Sophomore Kaden Waechter earned the win in relief, scattering two hits and striking out a pair in three innings.

From there, the game was in the hands of sophomore Waechter, the Tigers’ save leader with five but entering his third inning of work. That didn’t worry Menendez in the least.

“We’ve tried to manage him since he’s playing shortstop to try and limit his throws, but we told him at the end of the regular season that he has to be ready. The training wheels were off.”

Senior Noah Sheffield (10) makes a great correction to catch a foul pop in the sixth inning, while Kaden Waechter (32) and the Tigers dugout watch.

Waechter came through, giving up a harmless two-out single to DH Tyler Cripe (two hits on the night), before getting a line out to Pirela in centerfield to set off the celebration.

“I was focusing on one pitch at a time as I always do,” said Waechter, who gave up two hits to the Bulls (23-8). “Standing out at short and watching (sophomore reliever) Wilson (Andersen, who replaced starter McCall Biemiller in the fourth) really helped me. We’re kind of just alike pitch-wise and I could read (Parrish’s) swings. It helped with our victory.”

Senior ace McCall Biemiller worked 3 1/3 innings to start the game, allowing three runs on four hits and struck out four.

Close to three hours before, Jesuit jumped on some shaky Bulls defense to post an unearned run in the first inning when Pirela reached on an error and scored on Vincent DeCarlo’s two-out single. In the second, it was Pirela again with a base hit to left-centerfield that brought home DH Zane Pestalozzi, who singled, while a poor relay throw allowed Burke to scamper home.

Tigers senior first baseman Will Burke brings in a fly ball as right fielder Cannon Murtagh watches on.

Parrish squared the game by sending eight batters to the dish in the top of the fourth. Eloy Serrata drew a bases-loaded walk before Matt Thompsen delivered the key blow, a two-run base hit up the middle, setting the stage for Pirela’s heroic turn.

Starting the game at shortstop, Jesuit’s Kaden Waechter waits on a throw at the bag, while Parrish Community’s Will Rawls slides in.

On another deep playoff run, and a shot at a second state title in three years, Pirela said: “It’s going to take all of us. Pitching, defense, and the dugout is the main important part. Having the bench behind you, supporting you, can lift the players. I know we’ve got it in us, it’s just a matter of doing it together.”

Jesuit goes into the 5A state semifinals as the top seed and will face No. 4 Wesley Chapel on Friday at 10 am at Hammond Stadium, the spring home of the Minnesota Twins.

Jesuit’s Jack Clark (7) and Cannon Murtagh (21) elevate to celebrate its regional championship.

⚾ Class 5A-Region 3

Jesuit 6, Parrish Community 3

P 000|300|0 – |3|7|3
J 120|003|x – |6|6|1
W – Waechter (3-1); L – Guthrie (7-3)
2B – Clark, Pirela (J). Records – P (23-8); J (24-6).