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Pace Comes Up Short 1-0 In Pitchers’ Duel In 4A State Semifinal

Pace’s lone senior starter Tony Davilla gets ready before the game.

Monsignor Pace has shown everyone this year that it is not how you start the season but how you finish. On Wednesday evening, the Spartans’ bats fell asleep at the most inopportune time, and the result was a 1-0 heart-wrenching loss to Bishop Verot in the 4A state semifinals.

Pace did not have much offense on this night thanks to Vikings starting pitcher Jeff Passantino. The Bishop starter tortured Pace hitters with an above-average fastball and an effective curve. Passantino threw a complete game for the Vikings, giving up only three hits along the way, while striking out 11 Spartans batters. Unfortunately for Pace, it may see even more of the Vikings ace in future trips to Port St. Lucie, as Passantino is only a sophomore.

“He didn’t make one mistake tonight,” said Pace head coach Tom Duffin. “Our guys pitched well also, but the difference in the game was he didn’t make one mistake, and didn’t give us much of a chance offensively. I thought we’d swing the bats a bit better, but my hat goes off to him. He was pinpointing everything, kept guys off balance, and he attacked the zone. When you do that as a pitcher, this is usually the result.”

Early on it looked as though the Spartans might make decent contact against Passantino. Aaron Soto hit a one-out single in the first but was stranded at second. The next Pace hit did not come until the fourth. A lead-off single by David Palenzuela and a stolen base put Palenzuela in scoring position, but again Passantino worked out of the mini-jam.

In the meantime, Pace starter Alex Perez was matching the Bishop ace. The only trouble Perez ran into in the first four innings came in the third. A one-out single by Nick Rivera was followed by a Chris Vogelbach double down the left-field line. The double brought in what would end up being the only run of the game. Perez then worked out of the inning by getting a pop-out and a ground ball to third.

Alex Perez pitched a great game, but could not pull off the win.

In the fifth, Perez again found himself in a jam. Bishop lead-off hitter Josh Garcia doubled to open the inning, and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Paul Bretton. Duffin then went to his bullpen, summoning Jonathan Hernandez. The reliever immediately struck out Vogelbach and got Passantino to pop out to second, stranding Garcia on third.

The last chance for the Spartans to break through and tie the game came in the top of the seventh. Brandon Gomez led off with a single. Manuel Pazos moved pinch-runner Daniel Delgado to second with a sacrifice bunt, but Delgado would not advance past second, as a strikeout and a pop up to the first baseman ended the game.

For the Spartans, the season represented a coming of age that landed the young team back on the state stage for the first time since 2006, when they were crowned champions. For a season that started with a sloppy performance in the Falcons Preseason Challenge tournament, the progression of the young team was evident in the way it caught fire around mid-season and carried that momentum right through the playoffs. Duffin was more than pleased with how far the team had come.

“My guys had a great year. We only have one senior starter. I think they got a little taste, and I don’t know if they were starstruck or not tonight, but I’m proud of this season and what they have accomplished. This group of players has really got us back to where we belong, coming to the state championships, and getting us over the hump a little bit. Hopefully next year we’ll take it one step further, but I’m proud of my guys.”

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