FORT MYERS – James McGhee’s two-run double gave Pensacola Catholic the runs it needed to secure its second-straight Class 4A state championship and a perfect 30-win, 0-loss season – and likely the unofficial national championship.
The Crusaders beat Miami Monsignor Pace 7-5 at JetBlue Park, the spring-training home of the Boston Red Sox, in eight innings in a game that was delayed more than two-and-a-half hours by rain.
After McGhee’s double broke the deadlock, Cooper Jones retired the Monsignor Pace side in order. Jones, a senior, pitched 3.1 innings in relief of starter Nick Helton, earned the win. He also was the winning pitcher in the 2012 championship game and the 2013 semifinal – both against Fort Myers Bishop Verot – for an unlikely three Final Four wins in two years.
Catholic, which has won 35 straight games in a streak that began during the 2012 season, is ranked first in the latest USA Today and MaxPreps national high school baseball polls; with the state championship win, there’s no reason to believe that will change.
Evans Bozeman hit his seventh home run of the season in the third inning. His shot with nobody on base cleared JetBlue Park’s version of the “Green Monster” in left field.
Crusaders’ coach Richard LaBounty has coached Catholic baseball teams to all three of the school’s state championships, in 2003, 2012 and 2013. The Crusaders were runners-up in 2004 and 2011.
Catholic is the first Northwest Florida team to win back-to-back championships since Escambia did it in 1965-66. The consecutive championships also strengthen the area’s reputation as a hotbed of baseball talent. Since 1953, schools in Escambia and Santa Rosa County have produced 23 state champions and 14 state runners-up. Tate leads the way with seven titles, winning it all most recently in 2005. Escambia has five, but none since 1991, and Pace has four championships, 1985, 1990, 2006 and 2010 – the Patriots were runners-up in 2012.
LaBounty now has won 650 games and three state championships at Catholic. He’s led the Crusaders to the state semifinals 11 times and a region final 17 times, including an unprecedented 12 straight. And, he’s coached the Crusaders to 14 district championships since 1990.
To honor those accomplishments, the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee approved renaming Catholic’s baseball field the Richard R. LaBounty Baseball Complex to honor the longtime coach.