For years, the Miami Sunset baseball team’s notable claim to fame was major-league outfielder Raul Ibañez.
That’s starting to change this season.
In the 33 years since Sunset opened, it has collected plenty of championships in sports such as soccer, volleyball and softball.
In the past two weeks, the Knights won their first district baseball title and regional playoff game.
Sunset (19-7) will try to add to its budding tradition Tuesday when it plays at traditional power Killian in a Region 4-8A semifinal.
“I took a few of my students out to the field the other day when it had rained to help me fix it up and get it playable, and one of them told me they didn’t even know we had a baseball team,” said 14-year Sunset coach Mandy Pelaez, who was a pioneer himself in college playing on FIU’s first regional team in 1991. “There’s definitely a positive vibe at the school.”
Ibañez’s name is displayed proudly under the center-field scoreboard at the Kendall-area school.
The architects of Sunset’s ascent to contender status the past four seasons hope to make their own names famous after this season.
Two of them share the same first name and have earned the nickname “M&M.”
Senior shortstop Michael Paez and senior second baseman Michael Centeno have started for four years and played side-by-side since they were 8 years old.
Paez has hit .400 with three home runs and 22 RBI so far, and Centeno is hitting .403 with two homers and 18 RBI.
The duo’s natural ability to make plays simply on reaction and knowing each other’s tendencies made them one of the best middle infield tandems in Miami-Dade County.
“All I need to do most times before a play even happens is give him a look,” Paez said.
Growing up playing baseball together on little league teams in the Tamiami and Kendall areas, Paez and Centeno were both pitchers and excellent shortstops.
When they joined the team at Sunset as freshmen, only one could play the position, however.
“He won the competition,” Centeno said. “He was better than me. I was a little upset at him at first, but we’re good friends so what mattered was getting the chance to play with him again and help the team. I had played second base a little, but it didn’t take me long to adjust to the position.”
Pelaez credits that unselfishness, leadership and loyalty to their school are big reasons for the team’s success.
Centeno has since earned a scholarship to St. Thomas University. Paez has flourished at shortstop earning a chance to play at NCAA tournament regular Coastal Carolina.
They, along with senior catcher Alex Bravo (.477 average, 3 HR, 18 RBI), have helped the Knights hit .359 as a team. Bravo has worked well with pitchers Austin Comesanas and Danny Diaz, who have combined to go 13-3. The team ERA is 2.46.
The group helped Sunset get a taste of success their sophomore season, leading the Knights to the first round of regionals. But last season, Sunset took a step back losing in the district round. This season, Centeno said the team was determined not to come up short again.
“It’s exciting because this is our senior year and our chance to make history,” Centeno said. “That’s what it’s all about for us.”