Hawks into state championship game after Jordan, Wicker dominate

Viera HIgh's Dylan Jordan was dominant on the mound for the Hawks in Tuesday's Class 6A state semifinal. The junior right-hander struck out seven and combined with senior Camden Wicker on a four-hit shutout as Viera defeated Doral Academy 3-0 to reach today's state championship game.

They wanted one more game … they got one more game.

And they did it in typical Viera Hawk fashion.

Dylan Jordan and Camden Wicker combined on a four-hit shutout, the defense was outstanding and the Hawks managed to grind out just enough offense to beat Doral Academy 3-0 in the Class 6A state baseball semifinals Tuesday morning at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers.

The dream lives on. One more win. One more dog pile. A state championship.

It’s all within Viera’s grasp now.

“It honestly feels great,” Jordan said. “I wanted to win this game. We’ve been working hard for so long just for this moment. We started all the way in September, October … just for this moment.

“I think we’ve really surpassed some expectations. I’m really glad we’re here.”

Viera (24-5) is set to play Sickles (29-2) today at 2 p.m. in the state championship game.

Once again, the Hawks will be considered the underdogs. Sickles is ranked fourth overall in the state of Florida by MaxPreps. Viera is No. 32.

But overcoming the odds is nothing new for the Hawks. Doral Academy (24-7) came in rated No. 9 in the state with an offense that was considered to be one of the best in the state. Not only had hit 44 home runs this season, but the top three batters in the Firebirds’ lineup were all college commits, including shortstop Adrian Santana, who has a scholarship to Miami and could be selected as early as the second round in next month’s Major League Baseball draft.

Oh yeah, the Firebirds were also the defending Class 6A champions.

None of that mattered Tuesday morning.

Jordan went 4 2/3 innings, allowing three hits, walking three and striking out seven. Wicker went the final 2 1/3 innings, giving up one hit, walking one and striking out five of the nine batters he faced – four of them looking.

“Dylan may have pitched the game of the season, just the way he commanded his fastball,” Viera coach Brock Doty said. “He’s got so much run on his ball, sometimes it’s hard to keep it in the strike zone. But he was dialed in today.

“Wicker … He was ready to go. He was up for the challenge. It was just an outstanding pitching performance.”

When the Hawks made it to the state final four two years ago for the first time in program history, they were admittedly satisfied just to be in Fort Myers. If they won their semifinal game, great. If not, well, it was still a good season.

That is definitely not the feeling this time around.

“We came in this year thinking we want to win this,” Wicker said. “We’re not content just winning a regional championship. We want to win states. This is business. I feel like we came in with a more aggressive attitude, just wanting to win the whole thing.”

The senior right-hander said he could sense the difference in attitude right from the start.

“We were all fired up from the beginning,” Wicker said.

Although Viera would end up stranding 12 baserunners throughout the game – and leaving the bases loaded three times – the Hawks were able to scratch across just enough runs to prevent the kind of drama they faced throughout the regional playoffs.

Leadoff hitter Jack Malatino, who broke Viera’s single-season school record with 39 runs scored, got things started by drawing a walk on a 3-2 pitch. Adriel Torres then fell behind 0-2 to Doral starter Luis Rodriguez, only to work his way back for a walk to put two runners on.

Luke Campbell would eventually line a pitch up the middle – and off Rodriguez – for an infield single to load the bases with two outs. Up came Fano Cruz, who took a 3-2 pitch high and outside for the third walk of the inning to bring home Malatino and put the Hawks up 1-0.

“It definitely helps settle the nerves a little bit,” Doty said of being able to take the lead.

“I mean, you’re in the state semifinals. You’re going to have some nerves. That one run, the way Dylan was pitching, it felt like five.”

Jordan, a Florida State commit who typically throws in the low 90s, but has touched 95 on the radar gun this season, was simply outstanding against the high-powered Firebirds.

“I thought we had a good game plan going in and really executed,” the junior right-hander said. “Everything was really clicking. … I was pounding fastballs and when I needed to, I was breaking off my breaking ball. But it was mostly fastballs because they couldn’t catch up to the high speed.”

It also helped that Viera knew what to expect from Doral Academy hitters in terms of their approach, which included trying to hit the ball to the opposite field.

Both Jordan and Wicker tried to work to the middle and inside of the plate with excellent results.

Viera’s defense also came up with some nice plays, including a catch of a line drive by senior second baseman Cole Smith and the fielding of an infield chopper by junior third baseman Cameron Simpkins.

The play of the day, however, may have come in the fourth inning when right fielder Ryan Lewis ran toward the line to make the catch on a ball that would have been trouble had the Viera senior not been able to get there in time.

Lewis’ play would become even bigger when Doral Academy’s Daniel Restreppo followed with a double to put a runner in scoring position for the Firebirds. Jordan would come back to strike out the next two batters and it was still 1-0 Viera going into the fifth inning.

The Hawks would load the bases with no outs, but just couldn’t get the hit they needed to break things open.

Things got a little tricky in the bottom of the inning. A one-out walk brought Santana – who hit 11 home runs this season – to the plate. Jordan fell behind 2-0 in the count, but got Santana to fly out to left field for the second out.

The next batter singled to put the tying and go-ahead runs on the bases and Doty decided to go to his bullpen after Jordan had thrown 89 pitches. Sophomore lefty Brennan Confreda was up and ready, but Doty decided to go with his senior right-hander.

Wicker’s first pitch bounced in the dirt and was saved from going to the backstop by a great backhanded stab by senior catcher Alex Sosa.

But after that ball, which can be attributed to adrenaline, Wicker was lights out. Like Jordan, the Wofford College commit did a good job of using his breaking ball to make his 90-plus fastball look even better and moving the ball around the strike zone and keeping Doral batters guessing as evidenced by the four called third strikes.

“That was pretty crazy,” Wicker said. “I don’t know. They just weren’t on it today, or something. I don’t really know. But it was good for me.

“… I was definitely hitting my spots and just moving it around the plate which helps catch hitters looking.”

After stranding nine men through the first five innings, the Hawks broke through again in the sixth.

With one out, Smith struck out on a check swing, but the ball got away from the Doral catcher and he was able to beat the throw to first base. Malatino singled to left to put two runners on and Sosa walked to load them up with Glendinning coming to the plate.

The Indian River College commit got ahead 3-0 and two pitches later watched a pitch go outside for a walk to put the Hawks up by two.

“We got a couple of breaks offensively,” Doty said. “We got some hits. They just weren’t timely hits. They put us on base a few times with their walks and a couple of their walks gave us runs. That’s really the story of the game.”

Viera had seven hits in the game, two by Campbell, and none perhaps more important than the drive into the right-center field gap by Fano Cruz in the top of the seventh. The senior raced all the way to third base for a triple, then scored when the throw went into the Doral dugout to make it 3-0.

Wicker then closed out the game with two strikeouts and a fly ball to left to Campbell for the final out.

“We survived to live another day,” Doty said. “We made it to the last game. Hopefully, we can win the last game.”

Sickles, like Viera, used its ace pitcher to reach the championship game. Senior Caden McDonald threw a complete game one-hitter and hit a solo home run for the Gryphons in a 2-0 win over Winter Springs in Tuesday’s other semifinal.

For Viera’s seniors, some of which have been playing together since their T-ball days, Wednesday will mark the final game of their high school careers, win or lose.

If they can somehow get it done and bring home the school’s first state baseball championship, it would be one hell of a way to go out.

“I’m super excited,” Wicker said. “It’s crazy to think we’re right on the verge of it. We all want it so bad.”