Melbourne Central Catholic Races To 5A Title Game
By the time the team was walking over to the field at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers for Wednesday morning’s Class 5A state semifinal, Melbourne Central Catholic starter Nick Durgin was already locked into his zone. From the first pitch to the last, the right-hander was dialed in and locating his pitches to have complete control. The result was a complete-game, 2-0 shutout over the Suwannee Bulldogs that sends the Hustlers to Thursday’s championship against the Cardinal Gibbons Chiefs.
Durgin allowed just one hit throughout, while also allowing just three walks and five total base runners all day long. The senior struck out 11 and needed just 89 pitches to go the full seven innings.
“Once I step on the field, I kind of just hit a different zone,” Durgin admitted. “I’m just locked in. I encouraged my hitters when they got those hits, and I was hyped, but I still had to stay locked in and stay focused.”
The game was close the entire way, a high-stakes battle in which neither side ever yielded full control. The action befitted the grand stage and both sides delivered the caliber performance that brought them there, as there were no errors committed and essentially no mistakes made on either side of the field.
“In these games you’ve got four of the best teams in the state playing, and we certainly did have to go out there and get it,” Melbourne Central Catholic manager Tom Dooley said. “That is a great club and their guy on the mound was unbelievable, and he was even better at the plate. To be able to keep them from beating us is quite a statement from Nick and our defense. No question.”
The Melbourne Central Catholic baseball program is built upon a platform of doing things the right way. That style was evident all throughout the action, as the team pitched lights-out, played error-free on defense and delivered key hits in clutch situations.
“In the huddle we talked about family, trust, hope and faith, and things like that carry because you are playing for each other,” Dooley said. “I think it’s just an unbelievable story what this group has been able to piece together. We had some clutch hitting, and we have many seniors and they are fantastic leaders, and in order to get this far you have got to have some senior leadership. You’ve also got to have a little luck. We’re very fortunate and we’re blessed to be here.”
The Hustlers (24-6) struck in the second inning to grab a 2-0 lead. Caleb Smallwood led off by sending a liner into shallow center field for a lead-off single, and two batters later Zach Beolet put a charge in a shot deep to the left field wall to easily send Smallwood across the plate for the first run of the morning. Kevin Espiritusanto then ripped a chopper past third base for an RBI double.
“I saw a fastball and then a curveball. I swung at the high fastball and missed so I just told myself to be disciplined, be ready for the next pitch and just see the ball and hit the ball,” Beolet said. “Then I just hit the ball and drove it.”
Suwannee responded to the next scoring threat and buckled down to keep things close. Gabe Pallo started off the bottom of the third by drilling a shot that perfectly split left and center to allow him to race around the bases for a one-out triple. But Bulldogs starter Bo Bonds held the rope to halt him the final ninety feet from scoring by striking out the next two batters.
“Bo pitched a really great game and he kept us in the game the whole time,” Suwannee manager Justin Bruce said. “We made a couple of defensive plays early to help us, but we just couldn’t get much going with the bats. We didn’t get enough runners on base, and that is a credit to their pitcher.”
The Bulldogs struggled throughout to get anything going against Durgin. The big hurler did an excellent job of mixing his looks between the curveball and fastball to start each batter, while still managing to work ahead in the count most of the way. Suwannee (20-10) did not get its first hit until there were two outs in the top of the sixth, when Marquis Jones legged out a soft roller on the infield grass.
“I love watching Nick pitch. One-through-seven innings it is just a great feeling,” Cam Maruzella said. “You don’t get much action out there, but it’s fun to see him pitch. He is just such a great pitcher.”
After the game Coach Dooley admitted that it is bittersweet to know that Durgin has now thrown his last high school game for the Hustlers. Yet his swan song now has the team in position to play for its second state title, after also winning it all back in the 2013 season. With one last game left in the season no matter what, Thursday’s championship serves as one last opportunity for the team to represent everything that the program stands for.
“What we are all about is spreading what we are doing in our life on the baseball field, but it goes well beyond that,” Dooley said. “Hopefully the influence of our school and people like myself and all of our coaches will have an impact on them for years and years to come. These experiences that we get do not happen all that often, so you have to understand that you are very, very blessed to be able to come here. This is a great opportunity and we’re very appreciative, and we thank the good Lord above.”