With six state championships, Monsignor Pace has one of the richest traditions of any baseball team in Miami-Dade County.
The Spartans might have the experience this season to make a run at a seventh.
Pace graduated only two starters from a squad that advanced to the Class 4A state semifinals last season and returns a potent combination of pitching and hitting that has many believing it could emerge from a difficult region again this season.
“We have many players that have playoff experience including eight that have already committed to colleges,” longtime Pace coach Tom Duffin said. “We should have a very competitive team.”
The Spartans will be led on the mound by St. Thomas University signee Alex Perez, a right-hander who went 10-2 with a 1.24 ERA last season. Perez gave up only one run in the Spartans’ 1-0 loss to Fort Myers Bishop Verot at state last season.
Perez and senior lefty Jonathan Hernandez, a Barry University commitment, anchor the rotation, and fellow Barry commit Luis Deville is expected to be the closer.
But the Spartans’ lineup is what could make the difference in the playoffs.
Senior first baseman David Palenzuela (Miami-Dade College), who hit .488 last season, is back along with catcher Manny Pazos, (Pittsburgh). Shortstop Brian Bermudez, another St. Thomas University commit, returns. Senior Brandon Gomez (FIU) and sophomore Andrew McCoy (Florida Southern) lead the outfield.
The Spartans will have their work cut out for them in a tough Region 4-4A, however.
St. Brendan returns a much-improved squad led by talented second baseman Chiqui Carrera. Gulliver, Doral Academy as well as tough contenders from Broward County also present tough obstacles.
Even though star outfielder Albert Almora is gone, Mater Academy figures to remain the hot spot for pro scouts this season.
The Lions return a squad capable of making a run to state in Class 6A led by outfielder Willie Abreu, a University of Miami commitment who is expected to be a high pick in this year’s Major League Amateur Draft. Abreu was the starting outfielder for Team USA’s 18-under team that won a gold medal.
Mater also has senior third baseman J.C. Escarra (FIU commit) and senior catcher Kevin Abraham (FAU) leading a veteran group that also returns junior pitcher Mike Mediavilla. Mater should battle Belen for a shot at state.
Florida Christian returns a pair of talented lefty pitchers in Chris Pelaez (LSU signee) and Andrew George (UNC-Greensboro) who give the Patriots a chance to improve upon a 19-10 regional finalist finish in Class 3A. Westminster Christian, led by UM committed-shortstop John Ruiz, and Mater Lakes, a team on the rise, figure to be the Patriots’ biggest obstacles.