Total-team effort leads Jesuit to 5A State Title

Somewhere on the very bottom of this dogpile, closing pitcher Wilson Andersen is holding his breath, while senior centerfielder DJ Pirela is the last man to pile on after Jesuit finished off American Heritage, 5-2, for the Class 5A state title. 

By Jarrett Guthrie, Editor

FORT MYERS – Just looking at the scorebook, it would be hard to pick a “star” performance for Jesuit in Saturday’s FHSAA Class 5A state championship game. Across the two final-four games everyone who stepped on the field for the Tigers seemed to find their moment.

And the best moment?

No individual hit, or strikeout, or diving play.

View more photos from this game at this link.

The best moment was when senior centerfielder DJ Pirela, who caught the final out in Jesuit’s 5-2 win against Plantation American Heritage, was the last man to dive headfirst into the celebratory dogpile.

“I just wanted these guys to have that experience, to have that moment, the dogpile and all those things,” three-time state champion Tigers coach Miguel Menendez said. “They probably won’t even talk too much about the specifics of what happened in the game. But they’ll always remember (closing pitcher) Wilson (Andersen) at the bottom of that pile – even if he probably wasn’t able to breathe.”

Click here to read about Jesuit’s State Semifinal win from Friday.

Senior McCall Biemiller goes down the line with fist bumps during the pregame announcements. 

Jesuit won as a team. A complete team. But though ranked at the top of national polls to start the year, that didn’t always appear where this season was headed.

“We were 13-6 and everyone was writing us off,” Menendez said. “Probably rightfully so, because we were blown out twice, but these guys bought in and never stopped believing in themselves.”

And that belief and one of the toughest schedules put together in the state sharpened the Tigers’ iron.

Jesuit ace McCall Biemiller struck out seven in 4 1/3 innings to earn the win. 

Taking the ball to start the game, senior lefty McCall Biemiller held the Patriots off the board in the first, and his offense rewarded him quickly.

Senior DJ Pirela connects on a double down the left field line to start things off for the Tigers in the first inning. 

Pirela started things off with a double, scored the opening salvo on a Cannon Murtagh sac fly, and Jesuit built on when Noah Sheffield’s single was cashed in by Jack Clark’s double.

“McCall set the tone in the top of the first, and then DJ leads off (our offensive) game with a double,” Menendez said. “And we were able to score the first run. We’ve been such a much better team when we score first.”

Cannon Murtagh drove in the game’s first run with an RBI sac fly.

Sheffield wore out the base path the last two days, scoring five times in the Tigers’ two final four games.

“DJ is actually (my inspiration), every time he gets on base, I want to get on base,” Sheffield said. “So, every time, I just want to switch places with him.”

Senior Noah Sheffield scored five times in Jesuit’s two final four games.

Asked how things built in the early innings for his offense, the senior and FSU-committed Sheffield said it was simple: “When the fire gets started, it doesn’t stop.”

“We went through stretches where we didn’t swing the bat or hit very well,” Menendez said. “When these guys got going, it’s just such a tough lineup to pitch to. Zane Pestalozzi is going to Campbell hitting in the seven-hole, Will Burke is going to Florida Southern in the eight-hole, and (sophomore) Kaden Waechter is as talented as anyone in our whole lineup, hitting ninth.”

The Florida-signed Biemiller was challenged right back by Heritage, when Andrew Ortiz and Rafael Furcal led off the second with singles. But the senior was unflustered, striking out two and getting a fly ball without allowing the two runners to move up an inch.

Biemiller said the key to his success isn’t finding his grove – it’s the exact opposite in fact.

“I always have to stay uncomfortable,” Biemiller said. “When I start getting comfortable, I start throwing balls and get too used to the game that I lose focus.”

Noah Sheffield (10) congratulates Jacob Lozano (2) after his fellow senior’s RBI sac fly drove him in. 

Jesuit (26-6) kept applying pressure, building onto the lead with hits from Burke and Waechter, and an RBI sac fly from Pirela in the second. And made it a five-run lead by the third, with Jacob Lozano plating one with a fly ball to deep right, and a great bit of base running by Jack Clark, who broke for second before a pitch and got in a rundown, which allowed Brody Smith to score before Clark made it back safely to first.

Jack Clark is fired up after his first-inning RBI double. 

Clark hustles back to first, giving Brody Smith time to score from third.

But there was nothing comfortable about a lead, five runs or not. Last year, Jesuit took a four-run early lead before American Heritage rallied, forced extras and won 8-5.

“As much as last year hurt,” Menendez said, “that’s how much we’ve really enjoyed this one.”

American Heritage’s Lucas Ramirez hits one of his two doubles. 

The Patriots finally got to Biemiller with a run in the fifth as Lucas Ramirez doubled in a run to center. Biemiller struck out seven to qualify for his eighth win of the year.

“It’s unbelievable and all the credit to him and the hard work he’s put in,” Menendez said. “I think (Biemiller) threw 12 innings last year as a junior. I’ve told him and I hope he remembers, I’ve always thought he’s had as good a stuff as anyone on our team.

“It was always about whether he could handle his emotions and throw strikes ; and that’s exactly what he did this year.”

Sophomore Wilson Andersen pitched the final 2 2/3, allowing one run and struck out three.

The Tigers battery with the state championship trophy (left to right) Wilson Andersen, catcher Vincent DeCarlo, and McCall Biemiller.

The Tigers turned to sophomore Wilson Andersen in relief after his teammate pitched 4 1/3 innings. Andersen loaded the bases by hitting the first he faced, but left them stranded with a K and flyout.

Ramirez’s second double of the game started the seventh, but DJ Pirela held him there momentarily with a huge diving catch for the first out.

“Every time a ball is like that in my range, I know I have to cover ground in centerfield,” Pirela said. “But believe it or not, the whole year I don’t think I made one diving play. It was in my head, because I love diving plays and the energy that comes after it. The moment is so electric.”

Asked about his view of the play, Andersen coyly said he missed it.

“Honestly, when it went up, I knew it was a catch, I didn’t even turn around,” Andersen said, grinning. “That’s what DJ does.”

Jesuit’s DJ Pirela (left) and Cannon Murtagh celebrate the game’s final out caught by Pirela in center.

Heritage added a run on a Furcal single, but Pirela squeezed the game’s final out, earning Andersen a save.

“This has been a crazy year for all of us,” Andersen said. “God was with us the whole way, and I really just wanted to win this game for these guys – our seniors.

Jesuit senior Dean Spoto awaits a hug from teammate Zane Pestalozzi (6) after the latter planted the Jesuit flag near midfield. 

Jesuit dropped two of its first three games this season, before claiming the Saladino Championship in March, then dropped a pair of mercy-rule games in mid-April – something Menendez brought up in both final four postgame pressers.

But as he did after Jesuit’s semifinal win, he pointed to one of his seniors – Pirela as being the catalyst to the team’s late-season surge.

The Florida Gulf Coast commit took the losses personal and challenged himself from that point on.

“Second half of the season, especially as a senior, you just know you are coming to the end,” Pirela said. “Those mercy-rule losses really took a hold on me, and I said to myself, ‘man, this is my last year and I can’t go out like that.’

“So, I got the guys together to tell them, that this will have to take all of us.”

A message that proved poignant more than a month later. Gold medals on necks – ALL of them.

Class 5A State Championship

Jesuit 5, Plantation American Heritage 2

A 000|010|1 – |2|7|0
J 212|000|x – |5|8|1
W – Biemiller (8-1); L – Holiday (6-3); S – Andersen (2)
2B – Ramirez 2 (A); Pirela, Clark (J). Records – A (21-11); J (26-6).