JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Bishop Kenny baseball team has been waiting a long time to get back here.
And here they are.
As good and consistent as Kenny has been through the years, the last state semifinal trip came in 2008. That streak will end on Friday when the Crusaders (18-10) face Tampa Jefferson (20-7) in the Class 4A state semifinals at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. It’s been a long time in the making, but it has been well worth the wait.
The Crusaders went to six state semifinals between 1996 and 2008; four under longtime coach Bob West and two under current head coach Tommy Edwards.
The key to this season’s run — excellent pitching and clutch hitting. Hurler Ben Monger has been the ace. He went 16.1 innings without allowing a hit in wins over Ponte Vedra, Paxon and Santa Fe. In Tuesday night’s regional final win at Baker County, Monger went the distance and three-hit the Wildcats.
“I mean, we just got to keep playing how we’ve been playing. On a hot streak. Just keep going,” Monger said. “Keep pitching. Keep hitting. Just doing what we’re doing.”
While Monger won’t be eligible to pitch in the semis or a potential final, Edwards hopes that late season crispness continues to hang around the program.
“They just fight, I mean, it comes from the schedule we played. We don’t get out of games, we keep fighting and staying in the games and try to fight through the adversity and so forth,” Edwards said. “And they’ve done a good job with that. They really have. I mean, there’s times when you feel like things just aren’t working out, but we just keep fighting.”
Recent examples of that are easy to spot.
Kenny went on the road to South Walton in the regional semifinals, went down 1-0 and then came back to win 3-1 against the No. 1 seed in the region. They trailed 2-0 at Baker County entering the sixth inning, then scratched their way back to a 3-2 win.
Edwards took Kenny to the state semifinals in 2006 and lost in the final. Two years later, the Crusaders went back and won the program’s second state championship. Even though it’s been some time since that last trip in 2008, Edwards is well-versed when it comes to final four games. The message that he’s conveyed to players this week is a simple one.
“Just be aware that there’s going to be some downtime,” he said. “You’re going to be amped up and ready to go, you’re probably going to have to calm yourself down. Kind of make that adjustment and be ready to go at gametime.”