Bulldogs Stumble In State Baseball Semifinals

By  //  May 18, 2012

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Season Ends For Melbourne

PORT ST. LUCIE, FLORIDA – Left-hander Steven Jernigan will always remember his final baseball game on the mound for Pace High Schoolalong with his mohawk haircut from the night before. So will Melbourne High School.

Jernigan pitched a four-hit shutout Thursday as the Patriots advanced to the Class 6A baseball championship game with a 5-0 victory in the state semifinals at Digital Domain Park.

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He struck out five, walked three (one intentionally) and hit one batter. Pace will play  Archbishop McCarthy in today’s final. The Class 4A state champion in 2011 defeated Lakewood Ranch of Bradenton 6-4 in the other Class 6A semifinal game.

“He (Jernigan) kept throwing strikes,” Melbourne coach Pete Donovan said. “He kept us off balance. He was one of those guys where you walk back to the dugout thinking he’s not that great, but at the end of the game you’re 0 for 3. He did a great job.”

Biggest Threat

Jernigan, who drove in the first run of the game with a first-inning double, was at his best in the top of the sixth inning when Melbourne posted its biggest threat of the contest. With one out, Carson Jackson reached on an infield hit. Pace second baseman Patrick Ervin ranged far to his right to backhand the ball, but he had no play at first base to retire Jackson.

The Melbourne High School Bulldogs were shutout by Pace in the Class 6A state baseball semifinals in Port St. Lucie on Thursday. (Image by Jeff Navin)

A.J. Mussler followed with a single to center field and Jackson, who was attempting to steal second base, continued to third base. Austin Leeney then ripped a drive to deep left field, which hooked foul near the foul pole.

Mussler, a senior, then stole second base without a throw from catcher Daniel Hampton as Jackson held at third base.

“If you had told me before the game we’d be 1-0 down in the sixth inning, I would have taken it,” Donovan said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything more – except for maybe a clutch hit or two. I thought about putting on the squeeze (play), but that would have only tied it. I figured we needed three runs to win this game.”

After the stolen base, Leeney, a senior catcher, was intentionally walked to load the bases.

Jernigan struck out Gabe Rodriguez swinging for the second time in the game to record the coveted second out. In his first at-bat in the second inning, Rodriguez walked and stole second. In his second trip to the plate, Rodgriguez struck out.

“I knew he was a guy who chased up in the zone,” Jernigan said. “I trusted myself to make the right pitch.”

Luke Lorah’s line drive to center field was chased down by Patrick Maddox to end the inning.

“I was hoping it would sink in, but the center fielder was able to catch up to it,” said Lorah, who struck out five in 2 1/3 innings of solid relief for the Bulldogs.

Strikeouts

Jernigan, who plays first base when he isn’t pitching, improved to 9-3 and lowered his earned run average from 1.27 to 1.15 with the shutout. He has struck out 76 batters in 73 innings.

“It’s good to win and survive – that’s what it is right now,” Pace coach Charlie Warner said. “It’s tough to win a state tournament in this state with this format. You have to win five straight games where, if one mistake beats you, you don’t live on. We had some timely hitting, and Steven got the outs and the key strikeouts when we needed them. … Steven was a warrior for us this season. There were several games late into the year where his body was breaking down. I know he’ll take the ball, but I won’t jeopardize him and his health.”

Pace, which improved to 25-6, broke open the game with four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. Lorah walked Jernigan to lead off the inning, and he was replaced on the mound by Jackson. Patrick Maddox walked and Clay Benefield’s sacrifice bunt moved the baserunners to second and third. Pinch hitter Jacob Benefield was intentionally walked to load the bases.

Tommy McMillion followed with a line-drive single to center field to drive in two runs.

“I was happy to just find a hole,” said McMillion, who lined into a double play to end the second inning.

“Luke looked so good,” said Donovan, whose squad finished the season with a 26-5 record. “He did a fabulous job. I know the kids were not intimidated (by playing in the spring training stadium of the New York Mets). I don’t want the kids to just be happy to be here. We played to win – not to just avoid being blown away.”

After Jackson struck out Greg Rengel for the second out,  Ervin’s hard grounder was bobbled by second baseman Jake Walsh as Benefield sprinted home. Elliot Pearson singled to left field to drive in the Patriots’ fourth run of the inning.

Pace reached the Final Four last season and won the Class 5A state title in 2010.

The Patriots forged a 1-0 advantage in the first inning with two outs against Walsh, the Melbourne starting pitcher. Addison Russell, who has accepted a college scholarship from Auburn University and likely will be a first-round selection in next month’s Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, singled to left field. Jernigan followed with a line drive that Melbourne right fielder Matt Yates initially came in for before the ball bounced past him and to the fence for a run-scoring double.

Walsh struck out Maddox on a called third strike to end the inning.

Rodriguez walked with one out in the second for the Bulldogs, Lorah lined out sharply to left field and Rodriguez stole second to move into scoring position. Jernigan struck out Yates to end the inning.

Another Opportunity

Melbourne threatened again in the third as Jacob Wright singled to right field with two outs. Pace third baseman Brandon Peterson scooped up Jackson’s hard grounder and threw him out to end the inning.

The Bulldogs finished the 2012 season with a 26-5 record. (Melbourne High image)

Lorah, a junior left-hander, impressed the many MLB scouts in attendance with some standout relief in the bottom of the third inning. Ervin doubled to right, Walsh hit Pearson with a pitch and Russell walked to load the bases with one out. Lorah then moved from first base to the mound and recovered from a 2-0 count and a 3-1 count to strike out Jernigan on a 3-2 pitch. Maddox lined out to center field to end the inning.

“Luke looked so good,” said Donovan, whose squad finished the season with a 26-5 record. “He did a fabulous job. I know the kids were not intimidated (by playing in the spring training stadium of the New York Mets). I don’t want the kids to just be happy to be here. We played to win – not to just avoid being blown away.”

Lorah struck out two batters in the fourth and two in the fifth, with Russell being one of the victims in the fifth inning.

“I hit my spots, and I had my slider under control,” Lorah said. “… I think we have the talent to come back here next year. The seniors have shown good leadership and kept us motivated. We have a good shot to come back.”

“We didn’t want the shortstop (Russell) to beat us,” Donovan said. “We couldn’t pitch around him, so we kept it away, away and away. I feel good that we kept it in the ballpark. We basically tried to avoid him.”

Russell went 1 for 2 and walked twice to improve his batting average to .377. He has hit eight home runs, scored 40 runs and driven in 33 runs.

“I hit my spots, and I had my slider under control,” Lorah said. “… I think we have the talent to come back here next year. The seniors have shown good leadership and kept us motivated. We have a good shot to come back.”

First Loss

Walsh lost his first game of the season to fall to 9-1. The sophomore finished with an ERA of 0.82. Reed, who was 7-1, will be a senior next season. Along with Lorah, the three should be formidable on the mound.

Late Wednesday night at the team hotel, senior pitcher Ethan Anderson started the process of creating mohawk haircuts for his teammates. Most obliged.

“It was a cool thing to do for team bonding,” Russell said.


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