It’s a must in southwest Miami-Dade County that the Columbus-Belen rivalry gets displayed on a bigger stage than the rest of the schools — no matter the sport.
The two Catholic, all-boys schools, which draw large crowds of students and alumni every time they meet, played the first baseball game in the newly constructed Marlins Park last year and have made it a recent tradition to play their annual football meeting at FIU Stadium.
So it’s no surprise the two would face off in the first high school basketball game hosted by the University of Miami’s BankUnited Center.
There was hype coming into the game, and the game itself, played in front of about 3,000 fans, did not disappoint.
Columbus guard Chris Melendez, set up by the drive-and-dish of Johnny Minervino, drilled a wide-open top-of-the-key three with 0.9 seconds left in a tied game to give the Explorers a 57-54 win Friday night.
“That was a fantastic individual play by a great player,” Columbus coach Henry Lorenzo said. “In big games like this, in the end, they know what we do, we know what they do. It comes down to making a play.”
Belen called a timeout, but having to go the length of the floor, did not get a half-court heave off in time.
Minervino led the way for the Explorers with 19 points, 15 of which came in the second half, and four assists.
Melendez, who also hit a three-pointer with 55 seconds to go to give Columbus a 54-52 lead, finished with 13 points, and center Kevin O’Brien pitched in 12 to go with his seven rebounds.
Columbus (16-4) battled from down by as many as 11 points in the first half. Belen began the game on a 10-0 run, but the Explorers clawed their way back to within a point at halftime.
“We gritted this one out,” said Lorenzo, with supporters surrounding him on the floor waiting to congratulate him. “We got down early in this game, and we grinded. That’s what we preach to these guys – to just grind it.”
The game-winner by Melendez spoiled a 28-point game from Belen leading scorer Javier Alvarez. Guillermo Pujals added 17 pointsto score in the post for the Wolverines (10-9).
• Columbus 57, Belen 54 – COL (16-4): Minervino 19, O’Brien 12, Melendez 13, Durant 2, Rico 9, Cortina 2. BEL (10-9): Alvarez 28, Pujals 17, Couto 5, Medina 2, Iparraguirre 2. Halftime: BEL 29-28. Three-pointers: Melendez 3, Minervino, Alvarez 3. Rebounds: O’Brien 7. Assists: Minervino 4. Steals: Iparraguirre 3. Blocks: Battle 2.
District 16-2A final – Gulliver 2, Ransom 1: After having to sit out the postseason last year with an injury, midfielder Kai-Lin Hernandez led the Gulliver girls’ to the district title.
“It was a tough game and we fought it out until the last seconds,” Hernandez said. “We were composed and played well.”
Gulliver will go on to face district runner-up LaSalle in the regional quarterfinal next week.
COREY W. CAMPBELL
District 16-4A final — Mater Academy 2, Miami Springs 1: Mater Academy defeated Miami Springs at Traz Powell Stadium. Mater (23-2-1), which suffered an 8-1 loss to Springs in the regular season, will move on and host either South Broward or Hollywood McArthur on Wednesday at Traz Powell. Meanwhile, the Golden Hawks (15-5-4), who had won their district seven out of the previous eight years going into Friday, will travel to Broward County to take on the South Broward/McArthur winner.