By Mike Schoeffel / Special Contributor
ROUND ROCK – For the first time in its history, Jesuit is ending its season as a UIL state baseball champion.
The Rangers captured the Class 6A state title on Saturday with a 6-2 victory over San Antonio Johnson. Jesuit used a five-run bottom of the second inning that last nearly a half-hour to bury the Jaguars in front of 1,900 fans at Dell Diamond.
The program’s inaugural state title comes one year after the Rangers were ousted in the 6A state semifinals.
Jesuit starter Jacob Palisch was named the game’s MVP. He struck out six batters and allowed two earned runs in 6.1 innings, laboring through temperatures that rose well into the 90s.
“We came in here with all the confidence in the world knowing we’d been here before,” said Palisch. “I was a little nervous, but after I came down I realized this is just another day with my brothers. It was unreal.”
It was the final high school game for Jesuit’s Kyle Muller, the Gatorade National Player of the Year. Muller was drafted in the second round (44th pick overall) of the MLB draft by the Atlanta Braves on Thursday, and pitched a shutout against Houston Langham Creek in the semifinals on Friday. Muller finished the day with one hit – a single in the second inning that kept the Rangers’ crucial five-run rally alive.
“To have a taste of it last year, and to come back and finish things off this year is fantastic,” said Muller. “We knew we would be OK if we slowed it down and played our game. That’s exactly what we did, and I couldn’t be happier.”
The Rangers (36-8) scored all six of their runs in the first two innings.
In the opening frame, Bryce Bonner bounced a single into left field to score leadoff hitter J.T. Mix. The second inning was a blur of hits and base runners. Matt Horvath scored on a wild pitch, Mix brought home a run on a safety squeeze, Bonner worked a bases-loaded walk, and Mark Ready had an RBI ground out.
After the whirlwind subsided, Jesuit led 6-0. Palisch didn’t mind the insurance runs one bit.
“Getting run support early is the biggest confidence booster you can have,” he said. “When you know your offense came to play, there’s nothing you can’t do.”
As good as Palisch was — he allowed only one hit over the first five innings – Johnson didn’t succumb without a fight.
The Jaguars (32-6) loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the seventh, scoring their first run of the game on a Joseph Haight infield single. Dalton Shuffield followed with another RBI infield single.
With that, J.J. Montenegro replaced Palisch. Montenegro gave up the game-winning run to Cypress Ranch in the seventh inning in last year’s 6A semifinal round.
Montenegro made amends, retiring both batters he faced with the bases loaded. That sent the Jesuit faithful into state-title hysterics.
“I would have loved for Jacob to finish it out,” said Jesuit head coach Brian Jones. “But it all worked out in the end. J.J. was on the mound last year when we were eliminated, so for him to come in and get those final two, I think it does wonders for him.”
For Jones and his players, a state title is a grand accomplishment made sweeter by the way last season ended.
“We tasted defeat last year and we didn’t want that again,” he said. “We only wanted to go home with gold medals around our necks. Thank goodness that’s how it worked out.”