After Lance McCullers Jr. threw 93 pitches over six shutout innings in the Florida Class 5A state baseball semifinal, Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.) coach Richie Warren went to his bullpen.
Warren gave the ball to left-handed junior John Kilichowski, a Vanderbilt commit, who was virtually unhittable in his role as the Jesuit closer for most of the year. Kilichowski was making the transition to starter and was slated to start the championship game, but in a scoreless tie against American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.), the Tigers needed him now.
Kilichowski pitched a scoreless seventh, but ran into trouble in the eighth. A one-out walk and a two-out single put two men aboard for Brandon Diaz, who deposited a Kilichowski fastball over the left-field wall for a three-run homer. Diaz’s blast set off a wild celebration at home plate. The Patriots’ celebration resumed after Jesuit went quietly in the bottom half of the inning.
Warren addressed his emotional team, which saw its season end in heartbreaking fashion for a third consecutive year, after the game. Kilichowski accompanied Warren and McCullers Jr. to a memorable postgame press conference, where he said the game was the “most painful thing I’ve been through so far in baseball” and apologized for allowing the home run.
“We wouldn’t be here without John,” McCullers Jr. said, doing what he could to lift the spirits of his dejected teammate.
In truth, Jesuit wouldn’t have made it this far without the contributions of everyone on the roster. A close-knit group of brothers with a strong mental approach, solid coaching and an in-season training regimen to keep it strong throughout the season had a third straight shot at a state title. While the Tigers came up short, just having the opportunity is a testament to the sustained success of the program. There’s little reason to doubt Jesuit will be back next year.
Watch Other Episodes:
Watch Episode 1: Winning Tradition
Watch Episode 2: Stronger Longer
Watch Episode 3: Mental Mindset
Watch Episode 4: Lance McCullers Jr.
Watch Episode 5: Extraordinary Depth
Watch Episode 6: Staying Loose
Watch Episode 7: Been There, Done That
Watch Episode 8: Recover, Then Prepare
Watch Episode 9: McCullers Jr. Delivers